Little Blue Heron or Reddish Egret?

Little Blue Heron or Reddish Egret?

June 30, 2017 ~ Last week I showed you the Purple Gallinules at Cullinan Park but we have also seen a Little Blue Heron hunting in the Water Lettuce. There is at least one adult and also a second-year guy hanging around the same area as the Purple Gallinules. I posted some of the Little Blue Heron images on Facebook and several times people have thought they were Reddish Egrets.

So, I thought it might be helpful to do a bit of a comparison of the two.

Little Blue Heron posing on the railing
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1000
sec f/8.0 ISO 1600; tripod

The adult Little Blue Heron is a very handsome fellow. Or gal as they are the same size. With his mahogany head and neck feathers all fluffed out he might be mistaken for a Reddish Egret at a quick glance.

But, Little Blue Herons are small herons, about the size of a Snowy Egret. Yes, that is the small white one with yellow feet. In an adult Little Blue, base of the bill is blue, the legs are gray-green and his body is dark blue with a deep reddish-purple head and neck feathers. If he is not fluffed up, he appears to be small and slender. The colors get more intense during breeding season; remember the Little Blue Rookery we found a few years ago?

Reddish Egret for reference; taken at Surfside
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000
sec f/7.1 ISO 800; tripod

Now, the Reddish Egret is much larger (but not as large as the Great Egret) with a gray body and russet neck and chest feathers. The have much more of a mane than the Little Blue Heron. The adult has a pink basal part of his bill with a black tip, and his legs are darker. His favored habitat is salt or brackish waters.

Little Blue Heron poised and ready to lunge
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1600
sec f/8.0 ISO 1000; tripod

See, the Little Blue doesn't look at all like a Reddish Egret here. In this image, we have a small bird in a fresh water lake in a typical heron pose: stalking prey by slow and intense movements. He will wait patiently and then quickly grab a small fish, insect, shrimp, frog or invertebrate.

One thing to remember about identifying birds: color is not always the best indicator. Shape, posture, size, location and behavior all have to be taken into account. And season; some birds are only here at specific times of the year. Little Blues and Reddish Egrets are here year-round just for your information.

Little Blue snatching a fat tadpole out of the vegetation
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000
sec f/8.0 ISO 1250; tripod

Whoa.. now isn't that the way Reddish Egrets hunt? With their wings outspread and shading the water so they can see better? Are you sure this isn't a Reddish Egret? Isn't this bird at Cullinan Park hunting like the Reddish Egret? Isn't his behavior more like a Reddish?

Reddish Egrets are famous for their active and erratic hunting behavior.

Reddish Egret at Rockport Beach
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1250; braced on back of truck bed and bean bag

The pose of the Little Blue Heron does look a lot like a Reddish Egret's way of hunting, but it is deceptive. Look back at the Little Blue. He is hunting in the shallows filled with Water Lettuce so there is no need to "shade" the water. Reddish Egrets hunt in shallow open water. Look at this Google Image search for Reddish Egrets. All of the images are in the open, not thick vegetation.

Actually, the Little Blue is doing his best to walk on the vegetation; hence the outspread wings are to help keep his balance and not sink below the surface.

Little Blue using his wings for balance
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000
sec f/8.0 ISO 1600; tripod

Little Blue Herons do have large toes they can spread out to walk on the vegetation, but they have much longer legs compared to the Purple Gallinules of last week's adventure. He is heavier, and his center of gravity is way up there. Actually, I think he is doing really well to stay upright on the plants. The matted Water Lettuce keeps him from sinking into the lake.

Gezz, look prehistoric straight on!
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000
sec f/7.1 ISO 1250; tripod

It was a real treat to get so many images with upraised wings. Usually with Little Blues, you are intently focused waiting for a quick stab at prey, but this was much more exciting. Looking back at my images, one day he found tadpoles and frogs, another time he was catching mostly very small fish or insects. Those he swallowed too quickly to for me to catch.

Little Blue Heron airborne
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1600
sec f/8.0 ISO 800; tripod

Occasionally he would do a short flight from one area of the lake to another. I took these photos over several days with changing light. We would head out there when it was cloudy, but often the sun quickly appeared. If you go, it can be very hot out on the boardwalks and I suggest a hat. And water.

Creepy critter
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1000 sec f/8.0 ISO 640; tripod

And of course there is more wildlife than just birds at Cullinan Park. This, I am told, is a Robber Fly. I think they will bite you; I didn't get close enough to test that! This critter landed on the railing and I got the image with the big lens. I LIKE doing macro shots from 13 feet away!

The elegant Little Blue Heron
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2500
sec f/7.1 ISO 1000; tripod

This is one of my favorite images. I love the feather detail, the long toes curled over the folded lotus leaf. And the tiny white encircling his eye. What an elegant bird.

Now, do you think you can tell the difference between a Reddish and a Little Blue? You should check out Cullinan Park; every time we go we run into one or two FB Birds of Texas friends! Have you been out to Cullinan Park yet?

Green Herons of Cullinan Park

Green Herons of Cullinan Park

Purple Gallinules of Cullinan Park Conservancy

Purple Gallinules of Cullinan Park Conservancy