Great Egret

Ardea alba
Range Map

Great Egrets are birds with worldwide distribution. Depending on where encountered, folks know them as the Great White Egret, Common Egret, White Heron, or in past times, the Great White Heron. However, this last example is now used to describe the white morph of the Great Blue Heron.

Great Egrets are winter birds on the coastal regions within about 100 miles of the Pacific from Washington south through the Mexican border, and year-round residents at coastal wetlands and river valleys. Year-round these birds live in the lower Mississippi Valley and Southeast USA. Summers will find a few birds migrating inland as far as the upper Mississippi Valley and parts of the Great Basin.

Today, science recognises four subspecies of Great Egret:

  • A. a. alba lives in central Europe and east to Asia, the Russian Far East, northeastern China, and central Japan. They spend winters in south-central Europe and south to northern and central Africa, and around the Persian Gulf to southern China and Korea.
  • A. a. modesta lives on the Indian subcontinent east to southeastern Asia, southeast and east China, south Japan and Korea, south through Sundas, Wallacea and the New Guinea region to coastal Australia and New Zealand.
  • A. a. melanorhynchos lives in Africa south of the Sahara, and Madagascar.
  • A. a. egretta lives in much of North and Central America, the Caribbean, and south to Chile and Argentina.

My encounters with these stealth hunters have been in California, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, and in Texas. Sometimes in North America, these tall birds will get confused with the smaller Snowy Egret, but if you look for bill and leg color, you will find the Great Egret has legs that are not as dark as the black legs and yellow feet of the Snowy, and the Snowy’s bill is black, while the Great Egret’s is orangish yellow.

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