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A handful of relatively large, white, waterbirds migrate to Oklahoma each spring, creating identification challenges for some bird watchers. A wild double take between the great and snowy egrets can reveal differences in size, behavior, and foot color. 

Watch Wild Double Take: Great and Snowy Egrets on YouTube.

Find tips for identifying Oklahoma’s look-alike species in our video series on YouTube.

Similarities: Great and snowy egrets are both noticeably large white birds that are often found near water. They typically hunt by wading in the water and using their long, dagger-like bills to catch fish and other wetland wildlife. These migratory birds fly with their necks held in an s-curve and their relatively long legs extended behind their bodies. Both species nest colonially, with multiple breeding pairs nesting in a cluster of trees, and both were nearly hunted to extinction for their long breeding plumes. 

Differences: These look-alike waterbirds are often distinguished by size, behavior, and foot color. The great egret can be more than 3 feet in length with a wingspan nearing 5 feet. They often stand immobile while hunting and have a yellow bill and dark legs and feet. The snowy egret is significantly smaller than the great egret, growing to only 1 foot long with a wingspan just over 3 feet. Though they also may use a sit-and-wait hunting strategy, snowy egrets tend to be much more animated hunters and often chase their prey in the water. Snowy egrets also have a dark bill and bright yellow feet during the breeding season.   

If you see a great or snowy egret while exploring Outdoor Oklahoma, consider sharing the sighting on free nature platforms like eBird and iNaturalist. Adding a photo to your observation can allow others to help confirm the identification.

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