Herons vs Egrets: What’s the Difference?

Written by AZ Animals Staff
Published: August 22, 2021


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 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
LegsYellowBlack

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 which are yellow to orange, while egrets usually have solid black legs.

Next Up: Strong Enough to Survive: The 10 Weakest Animals in the World

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What's the difference between a Heron vs Egret?

They are large waterfowl with long necks and legs, in the family Ardeidae. There are many species of Heron, some of which are known as bitterns or egrets. There is no true biological distinction between the two birds.

Are herons and egrets related?

Yes, Egrets are a type of Heron.

Are herons and egrets aggressive?

Egrets are much more aggressive, though generally only toward each other. They are quite territorial. Herons are mostly quite docile and usually they avoid humans unless provoked or threatened.

Is an egret a small heron?

Yes, an Egret is a Heron, and they are generally the smaller of the birds, though some Egrets are larger than some smaller types of Herons.

Do Egrets and Herons have different feet?

Yes, their legs and feet are different colors. Egrets legs and feet are typically black, while Herons usually have lighter colored legs and feet.