Identify the Water Birds
Identify the Florida waterbirds.
Know the Water Birds of Florida
It isn't always simple to tell waterbirds apart. Was that a great egret, snowy egret or white ibis? There are many kinds of water birds. Some look quite similar, so it can be tricky to identify them.
If you want to tell an anhinga from a cormorant or distinguish between a snowy egret and a great egret, stick around. Below you'll see photos of each water bird and a description of identifying characteristics. If you like bird watching, here's a few pointers to make it easier to identify waterbirds.
These photos were taken in Florida, but the birds can be seen in other areas as well. My photos were taken with a Canon Powershot A550 or a Canon Powershot SX20 IS (depends on which I had at hand when I saw the bird).
Identifying White Water Birds
Books on Amazon to Help Identify Water Birds
I keep a varied selection of bird identification guides on my bookshelf. You never know when you'll spot a bird you've never seen before.
It's a lot easier to spot a bird as you flip through the photos in a bird identification book than it is to search bird sites online or flip through page after page of Internet site looking for a bird like the white one with the yellow feet.
What's on My Bookshelf?
- Florida's Fabulous Waterbirds: Their Stories by Winston Williams
- Smithsonian Handbooks: Birds of Florida
- Birds of Florida by Bill Pranty
Birds of Florida's Gulf Coast: Folding Guide
Earth Sky & Water Poster - Coastal & Wetland Birds of Florida (not a book)
Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron
Watch for a large, gray-blue bird with a heavy yellow bill. You'll see the neck extended when it takes off, but tucked back against the body in an "S" shape when flying.
Little Blue Heron (photo by Virginia Allain)
Little Blue Heron
Although this one goes through color stages (white and then mottled when young), usually it is slate blue with a blue/gray beak with a black tip. Look for it along the water's edge. It has greenish legs and is much smaller than the great blue heron.
I'm privileged to go past a rookery of Little Blue Herons when I'm heading from the second to the third hole of the golf course. The 'little' is part of their name, not just their description. Most people think of the Great Blue Heron and don't give
What to Look for - to tell the water birds apart
- Great Egret - Look for an all white bird with black legs and a yellow bill. It flies with the neck drawn up.
- Snowy Egret - Look for an all white, but smaller bird than the great egret. It has yellow feet, black legs, and a black bill.
- White Ibis - Identify this one by the curved bill (bright red during breeding season). It shows black wingtips when flying and has red legs. The immature ibis is brown with white underparts.
- Great Blue Heron - Watch for a large, gray-blue bird with a heavy yellow bill. You'll see the neck extended when it takes off, but tucked back against the body in an "S" shape when flying.
- Little Blue Heron - Although this one goes through color stages (white and then mottled when young), usually it is slate blue with a blue/gray beak with black tip. Look for it along the water's edge. It has greenish legs and is much smaller than the great blue heron.
- Limpkin - Notice a large bird with a brown body with white flecks and long dark olive legs. It has a slow, limping style of walking. It isn't nearly as showy as the egrets or herons.
- Anhinga - Notice their long, snakelike neck, straight bill, and a long tail. Females have brownish necks. It swims with the body low in the water, diving often. To take flight, it runs across the top of the water. Often you'll see them with their wings spread to dry.
- Cormorant - At first you may think it's an anhinga, as it looks and behaves very similar to those. Note that the cormorant has a curved beak and swims more on the surface of the water. Its neck is not as snakelike.
- Common Gallinule - Watch for a duck-like shape and a distinct red shield on its forehead
Male Anhinga Drying Its Wings
Anhinga Diving - at Crystal River, Florida
A Brown Pelican
Video of a Brown Pelican
Comparing Anhingas and Cormorants - Click on each photo to see it larger and read the descriptions
These aren't the prettiest birds around. Wood storks look graceful in flight, but when seen close up, the lack of feathers on the neck and head detract from their appearance.
Wood Stork Video
Look for a large bird with a brown body with white flecks and long dark olive legs. It has a slow, limping style of walking. It isn't nearly as showy as the egrets or herons.
Limpkin - note the spots (photo by Virginia Allain)
Pinkish Waterbirds - Flamingos And Spoonbills
Flamingos (note arched neck, dark beak)
Roseate Spoonbill (note broad beak, very different from flamingo)
Differences to Tell a Spoonbill from a Flamingo
Notice the wide, flat beak of the spoonbills which helps distinguish these from the flamingo. The spoonbill has a heavier body and thicker neck too.
The flamingo can contort it's neck in many ways.
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© 2009 Virginia Allain