Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The difference between herons and egrets

Someone posted a photo of an egret, and a war on avian semantics erupted. Rule of thumb. Egrets have black legs. Great egrets have black legs. Snowy egrets have black legs and yellow feet. They look like they’re wearing Nikes. Apparently fish can’t resist yellow feet. The other four North American species I don’t know. I can’t vouch for. Great herons are never white. But herons come in all colors and sizes. Mostly big. Bigger than egrets. North American egrets, all six species, are always white—except for the very rare Little egrets of Florida. They do things differently down there and come in six colors and they do pastels rather nicely. Pink beak and lavender eyeshadow, a fluffy champagne neck ruff, and pearlgrey coat, they’re the trocaderos of the Egret clade. They have to be, herons and egrets have no real tail feathers, so it’s harder to get laid. Here the fancy ruffs and headgear. The rest of the world, all bets are off. No regrets. And just to confuse things, sometimes the Florida heron has a white phase. Don’t ask. If California is the Left Coast, what is Florida? You have to look at other things to ID them. Like size. Headgear, beak. Think big. I know. I had a California heron size me up in Amsterdam. A zoo escapee. He was taller than me. And a bully. We didn’t see eye to eye. I’m not talking about the itty-bitty unripe green herons along Lake Merritt, or the croaky night herons here. Just to confuse things, Heron is a name applied to the entire bird family Ardeidae. Scientists are still arguing about the distance of relationships between herons and egrets. For now, all six species of egrets are a type of heron. I don’t like that, but there it is. But herons are real assholes, they indulge in siblicide, they shove the weaker ones out of the nest, while egrets just love their nest mates. Cuddle bugs, all. Definitely true Californians at heart.

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