SOUTHEASTERN CARIBBEAN BIRDS
PHOTO GALLERY
Trinidad & Tobago Field Naturalists' Club    Southeastern Caribbean Bird Alert    Trinidad & Tobago Rare Bird Committee

IDENTIFICATION ESSAY

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) and Snowy Egret (E. thula): Page 1 of 3

    The Little Egret is primarily an Old World species that was first recorded in the New World on 16 April 1954, when an alternate-plumaged adult female was collected at Graeme Hall Swamp, Barbados. In subsequently decades it has been recorded with increasing frequency in eastern North America, the eastern Caribbean and in northeastern South America. The first breeding colony of Little Egret in the New World was established in December 1994 at Graeme Hall Swamp, Barbados, where it nested alongside the similar Snowy Egret, which is widespread in the New World. In an article titled "Identification of Snowy Egret and Little Egret" (Birding World9:434-444), Edward Massiah discusses the differences between these two species, which are summarized in this photo essay.

Identification Summary
    
Juvenal plumage.--Juveniles of these species are difficult to distinguish. Both may have extensive paleness on the bill (especially at the base), dark lores (only briefly in recently fledged Snowy Egrets), and extensive yellowish or greenish markings on the legs (especially on the hindlegs). Within a few months juvenals moulting into 1st basic plumage are virtually indistinguishable from adults.

   
Basic (non-breeding) plumage.--Individuals of both species lack head plumes and are indistinguishable in plumage. However, the lores are invariably bright yellow in Snowy Egret and usually bluish, greenish or greyish in Little Egret, but never bright yellow. The feet tend to be brighter yellow in Snowy Egret, but some may have greener tones more typical of Little Egret.

    
Alternate (breeding) plumage.--Individuals of both species acquire head plumes. The Little Egret develops two long, lanceolate head plumes that are much longer than the shaggy, filamentous head plumes of Snowy Egret. The Snowy Egret also develops recurved filamentous plumes on the back, which are lacking in Little Egret; however, the back feathers of Little Egret may be ruffled by the breeze, thus resembling Snowy Egret. The lores of Snowy Egret become bright orange or reddish when breeding, but are otherwise bright yellow. In Little Egret the lores may become bright red, orange or yellow when breeding, but are otherwise bluish, greenish or greyish and much more variable in color. The feet of both Little Egret and Snowy Egret may also turn bright orange or red when breeding, but are usually brighter yellow in Snowy Egret and duller greenish-yellow in Little Egret.

    
Body size and shape.--The Little Egret is distinctly larger and longer-necked than Snowy Egret. The Little Egret often appears to have a flatter forehead as well, but this field mark is subjective depending on the angle of view and the degree of fluffing of forehead feathers.

    
Bill size.--The bill is distinctly longer and thicker in Little Egret than in Snowy Egret.

    
Leg size.--The legs are distinctly longer and thicker in Little Egret than in Snowy Egret.

Photo Index
     Juveniles (page 1)
    
Adults together (page 2)
    
Head profiles (page 3)

Fig. 1. In this photo the pale lores, steep forehead, and thin bill of the bird on the left contrast with the dark lores, flatter forehead, and thicker bill of the bird on the right. Thus, the bird on the left resembles a Snowy Egret and the one on the right resembles a Little Egret. However, both birds have relatively short bills of roughly equal length (by tforge online olufemi). Actually both are juvenile Snowy Egrets at Trincity Sewage Ponds, Trinidad, 14 July 2002. Photos © by Floyd Hayes. This photo illustrates a potential pitfall in distinguishing between these species.

Figs. 2 and 3. These two photos are of the same juvenile Snowy Egret on the right in Fig. 1. Note the blackish lores, short bill, pale base of lower bill, and pale hindlegs. Photos © by Floyd Hayes.

Fig. 4. When viewed from a distance in Figs. 1-3, the lores of this juvenile Snowy Egret appear blackish, but when viewed closer here the lores appear slightly paler just in front of the eye. Photo © by Floyd Hayes.

Figs. 5 and 6. Note the greyish-yellow lores and pale base of lower bill in this juvenile Snowy Egret, which is the same bird on the left in Fig. 1. Photo © by Floyd Hayes. A third juvenile with pale yellow lores was feeding with these two birds.

Fig. 7. Juvenile Snowy Egret at Caroni Rice Fields, Trinidad, 11 May 2002. Photo © by Floyd Hayes. Note the pale yellow lores, relatively short bill, pale base of lower bill, and the greenish-yellow legs and feet.