Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Heron and Egret

Heron vs Egret

Herons and egrets are both long-legged, freshwater, coastal birds. They both belong to the same family Ardeidae and have a similar appearance. In the family Ardeidae, there are 64 different species which have been identified and are recognized. Some of these species are called bitterns or egrets in place of herons due to the differences in their appearance. The bitterns belong to a different genus within the family, but egrets are not a distinct group. The classification of herons and egrets is not very clear, and there are different opinions about the two genera Ardea and Egretta and which species should be classified into which genera.

Egrets are considered different from herons because egrets are mainly white, and they may or may not have decorative plumes. The word “egret” has been derived from the French word “aigrette” which means “plume feathers.” There are six different species of egrets which have these decorative plumes. These decorative plumes are breeding plumage and do not occur throughout the year; they occur only during the breeding parts of the year. Egrets are also smaller than the herons in size.

Herons are long-legged, long-necked, freshwater, coastal, non-swimming birds. One of their most distinguishing features is that they retract their necks while flying. This is due to the sixth vertebrae of the neck which is modified. The neck can retract and extend. It has been observed that the neck of daytime herons is longer than that of the nighttime herons. The bills of herons and egrets are harpoon-like and long. They can vary in size. Some have an extremely fine bill while some have thick bills. Herons and egrets are found in many colors. The color of the bare parts is generally yellow, brown, or black which may change during the breeding season. The plumage of the birds is mainly grey, white, black, blue, or brown, and sometimes they can be very striking and complex.

Herons and egrets are a family which are very cosmopolitan in distribution and are widespread. They are aquatic birds and prefer lowland areas, margins of rivers, lakes, ponds, and swamps. They are mostly found in the tropics. They are present in all the continents of the world except for Antarctica. They are present in almost all kinds of habitats except for very dry deserts, very cold regions like that of the Arctic, and on very high mountains.

Herons are carnivorous birds and prey on aquatic prey like fish, amphibians, reptiles, mollusks, insects, and crustaceans. Some of the species also feed on bird eggs and other smaller birds.
Herons and egrets are mainly colonial and monogamous in their behavior. They are also called “shitepokes” or “shilepokes” and “shypokes.”


Herons and egrets are both long-legged, freshwater, coastal birds. They both belong to the same family Ardeidae and have similar appearances. However, egrets are mainly white, and they may or may not have decorative plumes.
Egrets are always smaller in size than herons.

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  1. I saw no mention of leg color – from what I have read the herons have light or orange-like legs – while egrets have dark grey legs. when photographed up close this difference shows immediately and stands out as a distinct and recognizable difference! I saw this in florida state park exhibits as well.

    • How can they be freshwater birds when we don’t have freshwater in the Keys? Coastal areas are saltwater, not freshwater. I have seen them in freshwater areas as well, such as the Everglades and lakes, but they are definitely not just freshwater birds.

      • I totally agree! I live in Hayes, Va, a northern part and coastal. We have saltwater here and Herons or Egrets…. I don’t know why they say “freshwater”?

        • Maybe the category “freshwater” here includes “brackish” water (mixed fresh and salt)? Here in coastal SC, our estuaries are sometimes saltier than the ocean – but the water is still considered brackish water rather than saltwater.

    • Check out The Sibley Field Guide of Birds in Eastern North America, and you’ll see that the leg color pattern isn’t really consistent. Snowy egrets, for example, have bright yellow-green legs as juveniles, morphing into black legs with bright yellow feet. A tricolored heron will have yellow legs as a juvenile, but grayish legs as an adult…though the scientific name of the tricolored heron is “Egretta tricolor,” so perhaps you might qualify that “heron” as an “egret.” 🙂 As the article says, classification is contentious!

  2. Good afternoon, the differences you have mentioned here is quite good. only one clarification, all herons are not larger than the egrets. like Pond Heron or Night Heron are much smaller size than Intermediate or Greater egret.
    I think the difference you have mentioned about the colour is one of the most distinctive.
    Anyway thank you for sharing this write up.

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