The great white egret,
|Great White Egret or Great Egret|
also known as the great egret, the large egret and the common egret is very common in the southern United States and the rain forests of South America. It has all-white plumage and is distinguished from other white egrets by its yellow bill,
black legs and black feet. In breeding season it gets delicate ornamental feathers on its back.
|Close-up of the ornamental feathers.|
The apparent difference between the great white egret and the great white heron, which is a morph of the great blue heron, is that the egret has all black legs and a thin yellow bill subtly down curved, while the heron has a very heavy bill and buffy-gray legs.
|Great White Egret with Alligator passing it by.|
As I have been looking at descriptions of different birds in the Everglades, I have read descriptions like (for the great white egret) "it is a large heron with all-white plumage" and it begs the question, is an egret the same thing as a heron, and if so, why the distinction? The family Ardeidae includes birds called herons, egrets and bitterns. The herons are in the genera "Ardea" and the egrets are in the genera "Egretta," but they are not biologically distinct and there is no consensus about the placement of many species within one or the other of the genera. The distinction depends more on appearance. Egrets are named egrets because they are mainly white and/or have decorative plumes, and they tend to be smaller. However, the great blue heron and tricolored heron have decorative plumes and the great white egret is only slightly smaller than the great blue heron. I have found other differences indicated, including: Herons have a clean flight and egrets do not; Egrets shake their legs while flying and herons do not; Egrets often stand in shallow water and herons tend to perch on higher places much more often; and Herons are more diverse in coloring.