Great White Heron vs Great Blue Heron

Great White Heron in the afternoon shadows-Key Largo, FL

Showing some comparative views of the Great White Heron and the Great Blue Heron on the same post. The first two show images the faces of the two birds. Not a completely fair comparison since I was much closer to the Great Blue and the neck isn’t fully extended on the Great Blue view. The second two pictures are black and white conversions of the two birds. The Great White below was in an overly bright back lit setting which made its natural white feathers glow in a high key look. There is plenty of shadow for detail of the feathers facing the camera. Great White Herons are truly the most majestic of birds and it is a complete treat to see them.  The Great Blue black and white conversion represents an odd thing for me in that it was a late day picture and the setting light should have been pleasing, but somehow the lighting was a rather sickly yellow which I just did not like. The bird itself had wonderful tonal qualities in its feather detail which I really did like. Sometimes the picture just tells you what it needs.

In a prior post I talked about the changes in thinking on taxonomy between these two birds. In Audubon’s day they were considered uniquely different species. Today the Great White is considered a white morph of the Great Blue with a limited range of the Florida Keys and parts of the Caribbean. There is good argument that the Great White should be a sub-species rather than same species morph. But, check out the past post for more detail on this. Sometimes I hear the word ‘phase’ used to describe the white morph. I find this confusing as it sounds as if some might think the bird has a white color phase before taking on the blue-gray colors we are accustomed to in the Great Blue Heron. This does not happen; the juvenile Great Blue is not white.  The Little Blue Heron does have a juvenile white feather phase, but not these.

I hope you enjoy both the similarities and the differences between these two large herons. Oh and I do support sub-specie status for our Florida Keys Great White Heron.

Great Blue Heron Face in Breeding Colors

Great White Heron - High Key-black and white - Key Largo, FL


Great Blue Heron-Merritt Island-b&w

Happy Birding!

~ by Judy on January 27, 2014.

11 Responses to “Great White Heron vs Great Blue Heron”

  1. My favourite birds!

  2. I haven’t seen a Great White Heron yet. Next time I go to Florida, I’ll try to look for one. Thanks for an informational post with such great photos!

    • Love of the Great White through art is what led me to bird photography to start with. I didn’t know then that I happen to be in the very state which has them!! If you visit the Florida Keys you are very likely to see them along the shores, in the mangroves, and even around marinas. I am sure there are plenty of people in the Keys who just take them for granted not knowing they do not occur everywhere.

  3. Clearly, I’m going to have to look more closely this spring, and not simply assume every smaller white bird I see is an egret. There may be some Little Blue Herons mixed in.

    It’s lovely to look at your birds now, because there’s not a single one of my regulars around. Freezing temps and sleet and freezing rain don’t make for a nice afternoon fishing off the docks! One more night and then it will begin to warm – I know they can cope, but my goodness, I feel for them!

    • Part of the confusion is that all egrets are herons, they are just specific ones which have the aigrettes during breeding season. So some look very much alike such as the Little Blue Heron and the Reddish Egret. Here is my one and only picture of a juvenile little blue heron and here is an adult little blue heron to compare with. The juvenile looked completely white in the brief moment I saw it and took my shot, but you can see on inspection of the photo that some dark feathers are present and the coloration is turning. When you see something for the first time you tend to peg it to something well known then you realize something about the shape is more like another bird. Makes it fun and makes you run to your ID book or the web.

      I agree on hating to see the birds in such cold weather. They do manage but they do look cold, especially with one leg pulled up for warmth.

  4. That coloured version of the Great Blue, somehow you’ve given him such a warm, lovable look. My first thought was the contrast of elegance versus fancy, but it’s not; it’s the contrast of cold versus warmth, detachment versus . . . almost that caring quality one finds in a loving family. It’s probably just the effect of lines and colours, yet I’d like to think your ability to compose is relevant too.

    • Now that you mention it, in all of my Great White Heron pictures, they look rather aloof in their stately way. Maybe too it is color that gives the warmer personality to the Great Blues….maybe the intensified breeding colors…or the fact that this one is breeding gives a gentler, mellower demeanor??

  5. I really enjoyed seeing these photos especially since I have never seen a great white in person. We get regular great egrets of course, but not the ones typically found in South Florida.
    Saw an all white juvie little blue, yesterday though. 🙂

    • Well we do have both,,,the Great Egret and the Great White Heron. The heron though you must look for in the Keys or southern Glades. Once you see the differences, you will never confuse them. So come on down to the Keys!!

  6. Such an excellent comparison… What a great idea! I love the white-on-white image of the great white. So lovely.

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