These birds are actually easy to distinguish from each other, once you get the simple patterns down.  The Egrets come in large, medium and small, as is often the case, and there is a single Heron in our area that also turns up in an all-white plumage.

First of all, the largest Egret, the Great Egret – almost as large as a Great Blue Heron, but a tad lighter in build, less exhausted-looking in flight, and of course, all-white.  This bird has a yellow bill and black feet, for the times when you aren’t sure about it just from the size.

The medium-sized version is the Snowy Egret.  This bird is a more active hunter than the Great Egret, and will often show you its yellow feet along with the black bill, as it works the shallower water around the edges.

Almost as large as the Snowy is the invasive alien, the Cattle Egret, which apparently reached South America from Africa and then moved up the continent into North America.  This all-white Egret has black feet and a yellow bill, like the Great Egret, but is noticeably smaller and is generally found in fields rather than water.  It often associates with horses or cattle, eating the prey stirred up by the large animals as they move around.  Unlike the other herons and egrets so far, this bird doesn’t have long, feathery plumes when breeding, so much as brown/orange areas in the plumage during the breeding season.

The final all-white heron in our area is actually called a heron – the young Little Blue Heron is all white in the late summer and fall, although by the next spring it has grown into the adult blue/purple plumage, with an intermediate phase where it is a patchy mess of white and blue, in between.  This can be confusing to people, but not if you look at the bill – it’s two-toned: dark at the tip half, light at the base half.