Make the ID: Snowy vs Great Egret

snowy_egret with yellow slippers
Snowy Egret
Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel
White wading birds are elegant and interesting to watch, but telling them apart can be confusing. Some waders may be grey or rufous, but have white morphs making it a little trickier to distinguish them from the birds which are always white.  But for two of the more common egrets – Snowy and Great – there are a couple of ways to  distinguish them not just from each other, but from other waders.

Great Egret
Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel
Look at size:  Often these two species are seen together, so comparing size can make it easy.  Great egrets are, well, great — much bigger than snowies — and very elegant. But if they aren’t standing side by side, then….

Look at the beak: Both birds have long spear-like beaks, but Snowy Egrets have a black beak, and Great Egrets have a yellow one.  During breeding season, Great Egrets have a bright green spot at the base of their beaks. If you still aren’t sure, then….

Look at the legs and feet: Snowy Egrets have black legs and bright yellow feet, often called “golden slippers.”  This is an unmistakable identifying mark separating them for all other waders.