Great White heron, or Great Egret? (1 Viewer)

Gary Clark

Registered User
I observed this bird (and took some poor photos with a pocket camera) for hours as he hunted around our tent camp in the Everglades. I was thinking "Great Egret" the whole time. But something didn't seem right, and I eventually concluded it was the white morph of the Great Blue. Now, reviewing the photo, I can't be sure. Unfortunately, the legs don't show, or it would be easy, and there is no way to judge size from the photo. Help from Aredeidae experts would be welcome.
 

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Jim M.

Choose Civility
I would go with Great White Heron (saw my first when they were considered a separate species, so I still prefer to use that name). Bill is definitely long and robust (almost as thick as the head itself), and I think I see light-colored legs peeking through the underbrush.

Best,
Jim
 
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Microtus

Maryland USA (he/his)
Supporter
United States
Can adult Great White Herons lack head plumes? The lack of any of short plumes on the head is good for Great Egret; Great Whites adults have head plumes similar to but shorter than Great Blue head plumes. I'm not convinced that any part of the legs are showing in the photograph, as there is a similar yellowish thingy at the center bottom of the photograph. The feathers at the base of the neck are longer than portrayed (or written about) in either the big Sibley or the National Geographic Complete Birds of North America for adult Great White, and are an appropriate length for adult Great Egret.
 

Jim M.

Choose Civility
Can adult Great White Herons lack head plumes? The lack of any of short plumes on the head is good for Great Egret; Great Whites adults have head plumes similar to but shorter than Great Blue head plumes.

Yes, they can lack (or at least not show) head plumes. In fact, I am having a difficult time finding a photo of one that does show head plumes. See these photos, all of which look very similar to the subject bird to my eyes:

http://www.beakspeak.com/images/blog/20070715/gbhe_white.jpg
http://sofia.usgs.gov/virtual_tour/kids/images/critters/whiteheron.jpg
http://www.birdsasart.com/bn101.htm

As for the legs, I agree it is not entirely clear just how much is showing. But I am fairly certain there is at least a tiny bit of leg showing I believe. See the attached image where I have drawn a question mark denoting the questionable "leg" portion.

Also, compare the size of the bill on the subject bird with these great egrets:

http://jrscience.wcp.muohio.edu/birds/ohio_birds/images/great_egret_b_sideview-40.jpg
http://chepuadventures.com/images/Garza%20Grande%20-%20Great%20Egret%20-%20Ardea%20Alba.jpg
http://animals.nationalgeographic.c...cFiles/animals/images/primary/great-egret.jpg

As far as I can see, the bill is clearly the type of massive bill one would expect on a Great White Heron, and it alone is diagnostic here.

Best,
Jim
 

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Microtus

Maryland USA (he/his)
Supporter
United States
Thanks for the links and the other information. I'm moving into the Great White Heron camp. I didn't know that Great Whites rarely have head plumes in the breeding season.
 

Larry Lade

Moderator
Staff member
In addition to having a smaller bill (Great Egret), I believe its coloration would be more evenly yellow/orange its entire length on a Great Egret. Whereas, the Great White Heron would have a bill as is shown in your photo.

Notice the bill on this bird (Great White Heron).
 

Gary Clark

Registered User
Thanks for all the comments so far! It is interesting to see others going down the same logical paths that I did; the yellow areas pointed out could be legs, but I concluded they could be stalks of plants as well. I failed to mention that this photo was taken in winter: Feb 18, to be exact. I don't know if there are any plumage differences for this bird in "breeding season", or if Feb is in the breeding season. I've never noticed any seasonal changes on the regular blue morph.

Sibley also indicates that the Great Egret has a subtly down-curved culmen, whereas that of the GBH is straight. However, I can tell little difference in his illustrations. The vertical thickness of the bill is dramatically larger for the heron, though. The other thing I wonder about is the existence of a "beard" on the GBH - a short fringe of feathers extending under the chin. I see it on photos of GBHs, but the Egret lacks this feature, and I don't see one on my bird. That worries me.
 

rjackb

Well-known member
I'm definitely in the white morph of GBH camp. It can be a little hard to go by bill size and coloration as you can see by comparing to the attached photo of a Great Egret but it still looks more like a heron bill to me.

I think the single most distinguishing feature that puts me in the white morph camp is the short plumes at the front, base of the neck. I've never seen those on a Great Egret and I see GEs nearly every day. I looked through my hundreds of GE photos and could find no neck plumes either. And, even though you can't see a head plume, it could be laying against the far side of the head/neck thus not visible.

Finally, the location (southern Florida) is right for a white morph. Nice photo, BTW.

p.s. Is that a scar on the side of the bird's neck? If so, the injury doesn't seem to have affected the bird too much because it looks healthy.
 

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njlarsen

Well-known member
Opus Editor
In my mind, I have not decided upon this bird yet.

Pro GWH: I am not sure the Great Egret would show the elongated feathers at the base of the front of the neck that this image shows.

Contra GWH: look again at this http://www.beakspeak.com/images/blog/20070715/gbhe_white.jpg image linked to above, which shows a bill straight on upper mandible, but more importantly having lower mandible with a strong upward bend about 1/4 from the tip of the bill. That is, I believe, a typical feature of GBH and by inference in GWH. Look thereafter again at the image starting this thread, where the lower mandible seems very straight.

Re breeding: in southern Florida, I think I have read somewhere that a normal year in Everglades, the herons will breed from January and the next couple of month, where successively less water concentrates fishes more and more in ever smaller ponds. Now, for the great egret, full breeding means green facial skin, maybe even larger than shown here, and excessively long plumes on the back; I cannot find anything on plumes on the front?.

Cheers
Niels
 

RaptorTrey

Trey [young birder]
I saw one of those at disney yesterday. WILD looking. Since it was living in like a contaminated place i suspectied it was algea.
 

tsiya

Well-known member
The adult Great Egret would most likely show a lime green lore area this time of year. This looks like the white morph to me.
 

Jim M.

Choose Civility
The other thing I wonder about is the existence of a "beard" on the GBH - a short fringe of feathers extending under the chin. I see it on photos of GBHs, but the Egret lacks this feature, and I don't see one on my bird. That worries me.

It is not present on any of the photos of Great White Herons that I linked to, so I do not see why it would be a cause for concern.

Another feature I see is that the feathering on the side of the bottom half of the bill extends past the feathering on the top in the great egret, while they both extend roughly the same length in the Great White Heron, as they do in the subject bird.

Best,
Jim
 

Terry O'Nolley

Cow-headed Jaybird
Feb 18, to be exact
That's my birthday! A great day to see such a fine bird.

I looked at your photo and I made myself just look at the shape of the bird and it looks exactly like a Great Blue Heron. The staring eye of a GBH looks .... different than that of a Great Egret. I just feel GBH when I see your pic.

If I end up being wrong, then I will eat my Sibley.
 

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