Identity Crisis – September 2011

Shot of the Month – September 2011

I never could really keep it straight in my head what the difference was between a stork, heron, egret and, well, between just about any other tall and lanky feathered thing.  I have just done a bunch of reading on the subject and I would like to say that it is now all perfectly clear.  It isn’t.  I have learned however that the whole naming-of-animals thing is a rather messy affair.  Here is what I know.

There are 64 species of birds that are considered herons.  We call some herons, others egrets, and the rest bitterns.  But they are all herons.

I photographed this elegant heron in Botswana.  Given that it is predominantly white we call it an egret, even though there in no real biological distinction between a heron and an egret.  But if a heron is white, or has some decorative plume feathers, we usually call it an egret.  For the record, this is the Great Egret, aka, Great White Egret.  There are four sub-species of Great Egret spread across the globe with one in Europe, one in the Americas, another in Africa, and the fourth found in India, Southeast Asia, and Oceania.

And what about bitterns?  “ Webster says that they are “any of various small or medium-sized usually secretive herons.”  LOL.  Well, that sounds pretty scientific.  Probably more useful for identification, bitterns tend to have shorter necks then most “typical” herons.

Another useful tidbit.  Herons fly with their necks retracted as opposed to storks, ibises, and spoonbills which fly with fully elongated necks

Stork (source)                                                                                                   Heron (source)


And remember, when all else fails, “Look at that pretty bird” works just fine.

Until next month… 🙂