Egret Vs. Heron: Key Differences

It is easy to see why people mistake an egret for a heron. They look alike and are both water birds. The egret and heron have long legs and belong to the family Ardeidae. In terms of appearance, they both look very similar, and it took me a while to figure out how to tell them apart. 

So, what are the differences between an egret and a heron? The first thing I learned that sets them apart is their legs. The heron has yellow legs, while the egret’s legs are black. Even though the heron and egret are similar in so many ways, you can learn how to recognize them individually with the right information. 

What Is A Heron? 


One of the best ways to tell a heron from an egret is by understanding what a heron is. You see, a heron has both a long neck and long legs. They reside both in freshwater and on the coast. Of course, by now, you know that heron belongs to the Ardeidae family, and in that family, there are 64 other recognized species. 

Even though the heron is said to be a water bird, they do not swim. The smallest heron is the dwarf bittern. The dwarf bittern is about 25-30 cm long. The goliath heron has a very fitting name because it is the biggest heron bird. The goliath heron is around 152 cm in length. 

If you have seen a heron bird, you probably found yourself staring intently at its S-shaped neck. The shape of their necks is the most recognizable feature of the heron bird. Why do they have these peculiar S-shaped necks? It is because they have six vertebrates in their neck. When they are in flight, their neck will retract and extend. 

Herons can be found in all countries except Antarctica. This is because they don’t like cold places. They are also very mobile and will partially migrate. They migrate after their breeding season. Now that you know a heron’s physical description and migratory behavior let us move on. 

What Is An Egret? 

An Egret

Egrets are a type of heron. They have white plumage, and when their breeding season comes around, their color becomes milky white. The egret has a filamentous feather that is usually on its back. 

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the egret became an endangered species. This is because people hunted them for their plumes. The plumes were used to make hats and fine clothing in the United States and Europe. 

Egrets stay in water environments such as streams, lakes, and wetlands. They like to eat small fishes, reptiles, and mammals. The egret isn’t very organized when they build their nests.

Fundamental Differences Between Egret and Heron 

Egret and Heron
L-Egret ; R-Heron

The first thing you want to know when differentiating these two birds is to understand that the egret is just a type of Heron. They both belong to the Ardeidae family. The term “heron” describes a large water bird with an S-shaped neck and long, skinny legs. 

Many Heron types include the Great White, the Little Blue, the Goliath Heron, Great Blue Heron, and our own Egret. Even though the egret looks an awful lot like a heron, a few visual cues help me differentiate between the two birds. 

Habitat and color of legs are some of the parameters for telling a heron apart from an egret. While herons have yellow or orange legs, an egret will have black legs. While they have similar beak shapes, the color shade of a heron’s beak differs from that of an egret’s beak.

Egrets Vs. Heron: Head and Face

The bill of the egret is yellow or black. Their bill is specifically designed to catch fish. Another fish-loving bird is the osprey. One of the ways you can identify a great egret is during the breeding season. This is because the eyes of a great egret will have green patches around them during the breeding season. 

The beak of the heron is similar to that of the egret. However, the heron has a large beak, and they are typically orange or yellow never black like that of an egret. 

Egrets Vs. Heron: Wings 

The wings of herons are broad and round. The wings are pretty large when compared to the rest of their bodies. On the other hand, egrets have tiny wings. Their wings are also broad and round. The main distinction between these two birds in terms of wings is the wing size. 

Egrets Vs. Heron: Plumage 

The colors of a heron plumage are blue and gray. However, you may see some species of herons that are white. The legs and beaks of herons are pale. 

Egrets are usually white. If you see a white, S-shaped water bird, you are probably looking at an egret. Egret’s also spot black bills and black legs. 

The plumage on the back of egrets comes out during their mating season. However, herons spot plumes on their faces, chest, and head. This gives the heron a fuzzy appearance when they are up and about. 

Egrets Vs. Heron: Size and Weight 

I can’t decide which is taller, between an egret and a heron, but on average, a heron is taller than an egret. Their height differences are notable when they stand side by side, and their necks are extended. A heron is also quite large and heavier than an egret. Bigger species of herons can sometimes be twice the size of an egret. 

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