Herons vs Egrets: What’s the Difference?

Herons vs Egrets

Written by Rebecca Bales

Updated: October 24, 2023

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Herons are a species of large water birds with long S-shaped necks and long, skinny legs, in the family Ardeidae. There are many types of Heron , including the Great Blue , the Great White, the Little Blue, and the Goliath Heron .

However, some of the birds in the Ardeidae family are known as bitterns or egrets, so there is no biological distinction between these two water dwelling birds.

Egrets are actually just a type of Heron , though there are a few visual and measurable differences between these two birds.

Comparing Egrets vs Herons

In general, egrets are smaller, paler birds, with darker legs and sometimes darker beaks. There are several sizes of both these birds, but the easiest comparison of the birds can be made between the Great Egret and the Great Blue Heron .

Great egrets tend to be a little smaller than the white-phase great blue heron, but one of the key differences to look for when telling apart these two species is that great regrets have dark legs, and the herons have much lighter color legs. Herons may also have a slightly heavier beak, although, that detail an be overlooked.

DifferencesGreat Blue HeronGreat Egret
Size (Length)38-54 in.37-40 in.
Size (Weight)74-88 oz.35 oz.
Size (Wingspan)66-79 in.52-57 in.
Size (Height)4 ft.3.3 ft.
HabitatFreshwater, estuariesFreshwater, salt water
Lifespan15 yrs.15 yrs.
SpeciesArdea herodiasArdea alba
ColorBlue, grayWhite
TemperamentShy unless cornered, territorialTerritorial, aggressive

The 5 Key Differences Between Herons and Egrets

Herons vs Egrets: Head and face

An Egret typically has a very sharp black or yellow bill, designed for catching fish. During breeding the Great Egret gets green patches around its eyes. Herons have very similar beaks, though they are larger and typically always yellowish orange. They usually have plumes on their faces.

Herons vs Egrets: Wings

Herons have broad, round wings which are quite large compared to their bodies. Egrets have much smaller wings, though they are still rounded and somewhat broad.

Herons vs Egrets: Coloring and Plumage

Herons are mostly blue and gray, though some species are white, and their legs and beaks are usually pale. Egrets are usually white, with black legs and sometimes black bills.

Egrets only have plumes on their back during mating season. Herons have plumes on their heads, faces, and chests year round, giving them a somewhat furry appearance.

Herons vs Egrets: Size (Height & Weight)

One average, Herons are somewhat taller than Egrets, particularly when they both have their necks extended. They are also heavier. Larger types of herons reach about twice the weight of the largest Egrets.

Herons vs Egrets: Legs

Herons tend to have legs that are yellow to orange, while egrets usually have solid black legs.

Bonus: Which Birds are the Tallest in the World?

Both herons and egrets have long, slender legs that give them a “leg-up” in terms of height. While they both rank among the tallest birds around, there are some birds that outmatch them when it comes to height and weight combined. Let’s take a look at the top 5 largest birds in the world.


The largest bird in the world is the ostrich.


The ostrich takes the number one spot as the largest bird on the planet. It stands at an average of 9 feet tall and weighs from 220-350 pounds. These towering flightless birds are native to Africa.


Emu in Australia

The Australian emu is a close second as the tallest and heaviest bird in the world.


The emu, native to Australia, resembles the ostrich as a close second in height and weight, as well as being flightless. Its height ranges from 5-6.5 feet, while it weighs in from 80-130 pounds on average.


Southern cassowary is walking. It is a large flightless black bird. It is one of the three living species of cassowary, also is a ratite and therefore related to the emu, ostriches, rheas and kiwis

Cassowaries have a reputation for delivering aggressive kicks to predators.

©Danny Ye/Shutterstock.com

Standing from 5.8 to 6.6 feet tall and weighing 110-130 pounds, the cassowary is another flightless bird that ranks high in the “largest” category. It hails from New Guinea and surrounding islands.


Types of Big Birds

the rhea is a flightless cousin of the ostrich with strong powerful legs, allowing it to run up to 35mph


The rhea is a South American bird that’s related to the ostrich. While not as tall and large as its cousin, the rhea can grow from 5-6 feet tall and weigh from 66-88 pounds.

Kori Bustard

The Kori bustard is the largest flying bird native of Africa. Taken in the Ngorongoro crater of Tanzania.

The Kori bustard is the largest flying bird native to




One of the heaviest birds capable of flight in the world is the African Kori bustard, which averages 5 feet in height and 40 pounds in weight.

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About the Author

Rebecca is an experienced Professional Freelancer with nearly a decade of expertise in writing SEO Content, Digital Illustrations, and Graphic Design. When not engrossed in her creative endeavors, Rebecca dedicates her time to cycling and filming her nature adventures. When not focused on her passion for creating and crafting optimized materials, she harbors a deep fascination and love for cats, jumping spiders, and pet rats.

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