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.
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.