“Great White” Heron – not just a color morph

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Great White Heron Ardea herodias occidentalis

updated 13 Nov 2007, thanks to all those who have commented publicly and privately. I’ve backed off a bit from my criticism of the TBRC decision, the more I learn the less clear-cut this seems, although I still think it’s at least a good subspecies. Shaibal Mitra sent me a copy of a paper he and John Fritz published in the Kingbird a few years ago, which reaches the same conclusion that Great White Heron is a distinctive subspecies, but points to my book as one of the sources unfortunately labeling the Great White Heron “simply a color morph”. Oops, I guess it does. That’s not quite what I meant!

This post is about the debate over whether the “Great White” population of Great Blue Heron is “simply a color morph” (TBRC 2006, Butler 1992), a subspecies (Mayr 1956, Meyerriecks 1957), or a full species (McGuire 2002). A few days ago in the first draft of this post it seemed clear-cut, now with additional information from many sources it seems less so. Much of what I’ve written here has been said before by Mitra and Fritz (2002) and by Tony Gallucci in 2004 on TexBirds here.

Butler (1992) dismisses the white population with almost no discussion, and unfortunately I labeled this the “white morph” in my field guide (Sibley 2000) even though I recognized that it was more than just a color morph. The Texas Bird Records Committee (TBRC) decided in 2006 to drop “Great White” Heron from the state review list, saying that it seemed to be just a color morph and not a distinct subspecies. This decision was apparently prompted by two records of white nestlings in Great Blue nests in Texas – an old photo from Galveston County (presumably from McHenry and Dyes, 1983) and an unpublished 2006 photo from Aransas County showing a white and dark nestling together in a nest tended by two dark adults!

I am fascinated by these records of white nestlings in Great Blue nests in Texas, but I disagree with the TBRC decision. I have always considered Great White Herons distinctive and I can’t accept that this is “simply a color morph”. Mayr (1956) did some actual research to confirm that “The Great White Herons are not merely albino specimens of Ward’s [Great Blue] Heron, but form a mangrove population in the Key West area which differs from Ward’s Heron on the mainland not only by the white coloration, but also by shorter plumes and an average larger bill.” (some nice Great White photos are here).

Mayr (1956) and Meyerriecks (1957) studied the white and dark herons of south Florida and found mixed pairs, no clear differences in behavior, and subtle differences in morphology. Zachow (1983) found that measurements of Great Whites are significantly larger than Great Blues from the Florida peninsula, which in turn are significantly larger than Great Blues from farther north. Mayr and Meyerriecks both argue that the “Great White” Heron is not a separate species, but they never question the fact that it is a valid subspecies.

Looking at the measurements from a field ID perspective, however, suggests that they may not be as diagnostic as has been assumed. The following graph shows Mayr’s bill/wing data in graphic form. Obviously there is lots of overlap between Great White and Ward’s Great Blue from the Florida peninsula, even though there is enough difference for most birders to take away the impression that the Great White is a “much larger-billed” bird.
McGuire (2002) in a more detailed study actually does suggest that “The great white heron appears to be a good biological species”. McGuire found that although some mixed dark-white pairs occur in the Florida Keys, there are fewer than would be expected by chance. DNA analysis suggests that the herons of Florida Bay and the Keys are isolated to some extent from the Great Blue Herons of the Florida Peninsula. [McGuire suggests that one possible isolating mechanism is time of breeding, with the peak of nesting in the Keys from October to April, and the nesting season on the mainland beginning in Feb-Mar].

The map below shows the breeding range as recorded in the Florida Breeding Bird Atlas. I added the green color to show the Great White records. Note that the green dot far north on the Gulf Coast represents a solitary Great White among Great Blues. The red dot at the upper end of Key Largo might represent one or more nests of true Great Blue Herons or an intermediate “Wurdemann’s-type”. Interesting to note on this map is the small but obvious gap between breeding Great Blues and Great Whites.


One of the most interesting facets of this is that the dark birds in the keys are intermediate in plumage and known as “Wurdemann’s Heron”. These are found only in the Florida Keys with Great White Herons, and according to McGuire, Mayr, and Meyerriecks all of the dark birds breeding in that area are typical of “Wurdemann’s” rather than the mainland subspecies of Great Blue Heron. So when researchers in the Keys report dark-white pairs and also dark-dark pairs with some white offspring, the dark birds are “Wurdemann’s” and not typical dark mainland Great Blues. Among nesting colonies in Florida Bay and the Keys, white birds (Great White) outnumber blue (Wurdemann’s) about 4:1 (McGuire 2002).

McGuire shows that “dark” birds in the keys are slightly smaller than white ones, but not significantly, and emphasizes that color of dark birds varies continuously from Great-Blue-like but (always?) with more white on the head (photo here) to mostly white with pale gray wings and back, so that it is not possible to classify the non-white birds into subgroups. In size measurements and in DNA the dark birds of the Keys are slightly but not significantly different from Great Whites, but they are significantly different from the mainland Great Blues (McGuire 2002). McGuire takes the color and size difference as evidence that “Wurdemann’s” are intergrades, but it would be helpful to know if measurements are correlated with size. That is, are the birds with the most Great-Blue-like plumage in the keys also the smallest? Assortative mating supports the intergrade hypothesis.

I may not go so far as to endorse McGuire’s view that the Great White Heron is a separate species, but there does seem to be plenty of evidence that this population is distinctive and at least somewhat isolated. A vagrant outside of the normal range should be identifiable with a high degree of certainty, and Great White and “Wurdemann’s” can be reliably distinguished from albino Great Blue Herons.

Birders in Texas and elsewhere should be encouraged to watch for this distinctive subspecies, and the Texas Bird Records committee should put it back on the state review list. That of course reopens the question of what to make of the white nestlings photographed in Texas. They should not be accepted as “Great White” Herons just because they’re white. Similarly, their mere existence does not negate the distinctiveness of true Great Whites from the Florida Keys. The true status of those white nestlings will have to remain a mystery for now, awaiting further study.

Questions:
It is interesting that white nestlings have been found twice in Texas but full-grown white birds have been seen very rarely there, and only as brief visitors. We still don’t know what these white nestlings look like as adults.

Have white nestlings been found elsewhere in Great Blue nests?

White morph Great Blues are also said to occur in Cuba, Jamaica, the Yucatan, and off Venezuela but are apparently smaller than the Keys birds and scarce (not a majority). What do these birds actually look like and what is their status?

Just how big and short-plumed are Great Whites? I didn’t do a thorough search but couldn’t find a good set of published measurements. I found no published measurements of head plumes, only the repeated assertion that Great White has shorter plumes. So I can’t confirm the identification features, only that I have the impression that Great Whites are distinctive, and should be more distinctive the farther one gets from Florida (as the size of Great Blues decreases clinally).

Does it make more sense to consider the variable “Wurdemann’s” Heron as an intergrade swarm, or simply as the dark morph of Great White Heron – making Great White a dimorphic, large, short-plumed subspecies of Great Blue Heron?

——————————————–
Distribution:
There are isolated records of Great White Heron nesting north to the Tampa area (Bancroft, 1969; Florida Breeding Bird Atlas map), and nonbreeders wander regularly to northern Florida (not mapped) and less often but still regularly to coastal Georgia.

This map shows the resident range (purple), distribution of vagrant records (green), and general areas of reported occurrence outside the US (yellow). The two red dots represent multiple records at a single location, which might be more likely to represent color abnormalities of local Great Blues rather than wandering Great Whites (Pymatuning Lake, PA: three birds in 1938 and another in 1961); South Holston Lake, VA/TN: single bird in fall 1990, 1991, 1994, and 2002). But in general the distribution of records appears consistent with a south Florida origin. On the other hand, Marshall Iliff (pers. comm.) points out that this is a surprising number of vagrant records given that the total breeding population of Great White Heron is under 1000 breeding pairs.

——————————————–
Aberrant “Wurdemann’s-like” herons:
A bird photographed in Washington County, PA in 2004 and present every year since then is clearly not a “Wurdemann’s” Heron, and likely a Great Blue x Great Egret hybrid.

Another odd bird photographed in MA in Sep 2005 was clearly a leucistic Great Blue based on size and plumage details, and not a “Wurdemann’s”. (Thanks to M. Rines for the photo)

——————————————–
References:
Bancroft, G. 1969. A great white heron in great blue nesting colony. Auk
86:141–142. pdf here

Butler, Robert W.. 1992 . Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online

Mayr, E. 1956. Is the great white heron a good species? Auk 73:71–77. pdf here

McGuire, H. L. 2002. Taxonomic status of the great white heron (Ardea herodias occidentalis): an analysis of behavioral, genetic, and morphometric evidence. Final Report. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Tallahassee, Florida, USA. pdf here

McHenry, E. N., and J. C. Dyes. 1983. First record of juvenal “white-phase”
great blue heron in Texas. American Birds 37:119.

Meyerriecks, A. J. 1957. Field observations pertaining to the systematic
status of the great white heron in the Florida Keys. Auk 74:469–478. pdf here

Mitra, S. S. and Fritz, J. (2002) Two Great White Herons (Ardea (herodias) occidentalis) in NewYork,Sept-Nov 2001.Kingbird 52 (1):27-34.

Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. Chanticleer Press.

Texas Bird Records Committee. 2006. Minutes of Annual Meeting.

Zachow, K. F. 1983. The great blue and great white heron (Aves: Ciconiiformes: Ardeidae): a multivariate morphometric analysis of skeletons. Thesis, University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida, USA.

51 thoughts on ““Great White” Heron – not just a color morph”

  1. I would think this is the sort of case where one would want to lean on DNA evidence as much as possible (physical features can be deceptive in their differences, and subspecies could have distinctive physical features without being fully separate species). You state that “in DNA analysis the herons of Florida Bay and the Keys cluster apart from the Great Blue Herons of the Florida Peninsula” — can you expand on that at all, or what sample sizes are involved? “Cluster apart” is a little vague (any overlap?) — it may simply be that the current DNA analysis is too weak to be very helpful, but maybe it’s clear enough to strongly point in the direction you’re suggesting.

    1. I just bought a house in NJ with a pond. I have both a blue heron and white heron on my pond. They hang together feeding off my pond together in occasion. The blue one is there regularly while the white one is not always around. This morning both of them were together on the pond. I took a cell phone photo from inside my house since it was really early. Another time both of them were on the pond feet away from each other along with some ducks.
      I’m guessing this is rare for my area? I’m as far north in the state as well.

  2. Thanks for the comments. I’ve made some changes to the post in response. There is a lot about the DNA work in McGuire’s paper, and I’ll simply refer you there for all the details. In my quick read I think it shows that the Florida Keys herons are genetically isolated to some extent, and supports the same pattern of variation that the measurements show – the white and dark herons from the Florida Keys are slightly but distinctly different from the dark birds of the Florida peninsula, which are different from Great Blue herons farther north.

    I just read what I think is a helpful metaphor in the book “1491” by Charles Mann. Quoting Hugo Perales (about variation in Maize) “The varieties are not like islands, carefully apart. They are more like gentle hills in a landscape – you see them, they are clearly present, but you cannot specify precisely where they start.”

    I’d say that across most of North America we have a rolling or steady incline of subtle variation in Great Blue Herons, punctuated by this sudden conspicuous peak in the Florida Keys. Whether the Great White Heron is more like an island or a hill, my main point is simply that it is “clearly present”.

  3. If I remember correctly, Payne and Risley published a fairly extensive morphometric analysis of Ardeidae. It might be worth checking to see if they looked at Great White Heron specimens. The McGuire article probably cites the paper.

  4. David, thanks for posting the McGuire (2002) pdf file. I’m up to my neck with academia and haven’t had a chance yet to read the entire article by McGuire (2002), but the abstract sums it up nicely (assuming the conclusions are supported by the data within the paper):

    “I observed more white/white and blue/blue pairs and fewer mixed pairs than expected in a randomly mating population, suggesting that premating isolating mechanisms exist within the Florida Bay breeding population… The great white heron appears to be a good biological species.”

    So we have two sympatrically breeding morphs that differ in more than one morphological trait, plus they differ genetically as well. But most importantly, and this trumps all else in my opinion, they mate assortatively. If the birds do not view each other as a randomly mating, freely interbreeding population, why should we? As far as I’m concerned they’re different biological species.

    By the way, I like the “comprehensive biologic species concept (CBSC)” proposed for birds by Johnson et al. (1999:1478): “An avian species is a system of populations representing an essentially monophyletic, genetically cohesive, and genealogically concordant lineage of individuals that share a common fertilisation system through time and space, represent an independent evolutionary trajectory, and demonstrate ESSENTIAL BUT NOT NECESSARILY COMPLETE REPRODUCTIVE ISOLATION [emphasis supplied] from other such systems.”

    Here is the citation:

    Johnson, N. K., J. V. Remsen Jr., and C. Cicero. 1999. Resolution of the debate over species concepts in ornithology: a new comprehensive biologic species concept. Pp. 1470-1482 in Adams, N. J., and R. H. Slotow, eds. Proceedings of the 22nd International Ornithological Congress, Durban. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Michael. I didn’t try to map records from northern Florida, since Great White Heron has been recorded all along both coasts of the peninsula as well as inland, but I guess I should add that to the map so it’s clear.

    1. Hi Michael, Thanks for the info and the photo link. I’m curious if the white Great Blues are nesting around there (the one in the photo looks like it’s in breeding colors)? And do you see any dark Great Blue herons that look like they are nesting there, or just the small numbers of white ones?

  5. I live in San Juan Puerto Rico where I’ve lived for many ,many years and I saw [day before yesterday] a bird that looked just like the white heron in the pictures shown at the beginning of this article by the lagoon here in the Condado area.It had about a five foot wingspan and to take off it had to slowly circle to gain height and then with slow big strokes continue on it’s flight.Has anyone ever reported a great white heron this far south?? Just curious .I would appreciate any comments.Thank you . Brian.

    1. Francis A Cichowski Jr

      My wife and I observed a White morph “Great Blue” yesterday 04 07 16.
      Philipsberg Sint Maarten Salt Pond.
      A couple of years ago we saw one in Saint Augustine FL.
      Striking and Magestic.

  6. Recently I was at Great Meadows and saw a Great Blue Heron. While focusing on the Heron, I saw a swoosh of white come into view. At first I shrugged it off as the Swans that are there, but then I saw it fly again and noticed it was heron-shaped. It was the same size as the Great Blue Heron, and the two birds seemed to be snapping and squawking at each other until the white bird flew away. After doing some research I found that Great Egrets are smaller than Herons, so that could not have been it. I then stumbled upon the white morph of Great Blue Herons, but learned that those aren’t present this far North. Could it possibly be an albino or leucistic Great Blue Heron? The bird was not close enough to notice the eye color which could determine what kind of bird it was. Could it be a white morph that somehow ended up in Massachusetts? Or could I be missing something completely? Thanks so much for the help!

    1. Hi Gates, The white morph has occurred in Massachusetts a few times, but it’s extremely rare, and the same for albino Great Blues. Those are possible but I would look for other explanations first. The most likely large white heron is Great Egret, and I would suggest that the size difference is not all that obvious – especially when the two birds are flapping and fighting. If you do get a better look the bill color and leg color are some of the best distinguishing features – bright yellow bill and blackish legs on Great Egret, drabber yellowish/grayish bill and grayish legs on Great White. Best, David

  7. First off understand that I am a photographer and not a bird expert. That being said let me share my experiences with you. In June of 2008 I became interested in photographing the mating of the great blue heron. There was a little known location on Okaloosa Island, Fort Walton Beach, Florida where a heronry existed. Nineteen nests existed there at this time. Being a novice at shooting a mating season I spent several days observing activities in the many nests. I noticed that one nest had a rather unusual looking adult female with a head and neck predominantly white. I chose to photograph this couple since I could track this bird easily. I witnessed the nest building through to the fledging of their four chicks.

    At one point early on I wrote to two birding stations, one in the Florida Keys, Islamorada, and the second, the National Audubon Society in Washington D.C. I sent them images of the bird in question and was told by both sources that I had photographed a Wurdemann’s Heron. They went on to say that this bird was rarely if ever seen north of Tampa, Florida.

    I photographed this couple for the next two years however the forth year the couple did not return to the nesting site. It was during that time that we had a hurricane that brought down the dead pine where they had maintained their nest.

    The Wurdemann’s Heron was a female. I’ve concluded this from their mating position. Since then I’ve not seen another of her type in the area. I’d been told that perhaps their offspring would take on the Wurdemann’s coloring.

    So I must conclude that Wurdemann’s Heron do sometimes reside north of Tampa since I’ve seen and photographed one for several years.

    This link will take you to one of my photographs of the Wurdemann’s and her chicks:

    http://www.dickjenkinsphotography.com/-/jenkinsphotography/gallery.asp?LID=&cat=142843&pID=16&row=5&photoID=6358821&searchTerm=

  8. Fred Allendorf

    I believe that the data presented in McGuire (2002) do not support the conclusions of separate species. Based on the microsatellite frequency data presented, the white and blue birds from Florida Bay are genetically similar. This and other data presented support that this is a color polymorphism within a single species, and the white form is recessive to the blue.

    The conclusion that the great white heron is a “good biological species” is based primarily upon the assortative mating of the color morphs. However, 15% of the matings within the Florida Bay population were between white and blue birds. In addition, such assortative mating of different color morphs within a species has been known for many years in other bird species (e.g., Cooke et al. (1976). Here is their Abstract:

    “Assortative mating occurs in the dimorphic lesser snow geese in the wild. Mixed matings between the blue and white phases are much less frequent than would be expected by chance. Evidence from marked birds in field conditions indicated that mate choice was correlated with familial color. Birds from white families usually chose white mates, birds from blue families usually chose blue mates, and birds from mixed families chose mates of either color. Similar results were obtained under captive conditions when offspring from foster families with particular parental and offspring color combinations were allowed to choose mates. Both parental color and sibling color appeared to influence mate choice. The bird’s own color did not appear to be important in mate choice in either field or experimental conditions, and in those cases where male and female parents differed in color neither parental color was more influential than the other in determining offspring mate choice. The results provide the first evidence, to our knowledge, that mate selection based on familial appearance operates intraspecifically in the wild.”

    Cooke, F., G. H. Finney, and R. F. Rockwell. 1976. Assortative mating in lesser snow geese (Anser caerulescens). Behavior Genetics 6:127-140.

  9. Mr. Sibley,

    Thank you for your analysis, it has been very helpful in further reassuring me that the large white bird I’ve been seeing outside in the creek in the front of my home, is a Great White Heron. My neighborhood is on the Chesapeake and we overlook a creek that inlets off the Bay. We have ospreys, snowy egrets, blue herons, little blue heron, and the green heron. I first saw this bird when I was in Wilmington, NC in Sept. 2011 in a creek where we were visiting. The white heron that we’ve been seeing is similar to a heron in that it’s larger than the egret, in flight it’s neck is the same as a blue. I heard it’s raaank voice this morning for the first time as we are quite use to hearing the blue heron. It does seem to be not quite as I like to say “cranky” as the blue that hangs around here. It most definitely has the straw-like yellow bill, as did the one in NC. I have pictures of them both. Your distribution map helped to further reassure me, that this could very well be the bird. But I’d be nice to know for sure, but for now I’ll just continue to call him the white heron 🙂

  10. I have, what I believe is a Great White Heron, on French Pond in Henniker, NH. It has been here for at least two weeks. I have pictures on my iphone. Could send them with an email link.

  11. I live in central NY, right outside Rome. I saw a white Heron this morning. I am not familiar enough to observe many details though.

  12. I row on the Concord River in Bedford, MA. Over the past month, I have seen white herons almost every day, in the same location, along with the ubiquitous Great Blue Herons. One day I saw 3 whites at the same time, so there are definitely at least 3 here. These whites are the same size as the blues.

  13. April 27, 2015

    At our farm here in Meredith NY in the western Catskill, this morning two pairs of herons appeared stalking and sitting on the edge of our one acre pond. All look like typical great blue herons which fish often on our pond…… except one is all white. Same size, and hanging close to one of the blue herons. Looks like a great white heron, or albino great blue. But the fact that they seem to be a pair suggest the same species, but different color.

  14. Mr. Sibley,
    I have recent photos of a great blue heron nest in Bonita Springs, FL with one white baby and one blue baby. I think the parents are both blue. I have followed the nest for several weeks and feel the babies are about to fledge. The nest is in a gated community.
    You may reach me at the above email address.

  15. I typically see several great blue herons on the pond behind our house in the Holland, Michigan area, but this morning saw a pure white great blue heron. I was able to snap some pictures of it before it flew off. I am seeing from the other comments that perhaps the range of the white heron is expanding? I have never seen one in this area before. Please contact me if you would like to see the pictures.

  16. I just shot about 1200 pictures of 6 white herons about a half a mile north of the Ohio River on the Ohio – Indiana border in a mud flat off a gravel quarry. I was stunned at what I saw and had to look up my “finds” when I saw this article. I went out suspecting that the migration of water birds had started with the early cool weather we’ve been having and was just shocked when I spotted the 6 and 1 Great Blue.

    1. Hi Rene, That is a Great Blue Heron, dark (typical) morph. If it looks paler than usual I think that’s just because of the strong sunlight, and taking that into account it looks normal gray on the back and wings, with black head markings, etc.
      –Best, David

  17. Pyle (2008) provides the numbers that you lacked on plume length: occidentalis (Great White Heron) — 60-120mm; wardi (Great Blue Heron, a large subspecies) — 110-230mm; herodias (Great Blue Heron, a small subspecies) — 90-200mm).

    Pyle, P. 2008. Identification Guide to North American Birds, part II. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, CA.

  18. Thank you for all this fascinating information about the Great Blue Heron. When we were visiting the Palm Beach area we saw some very white colored Great Blue Herons. We see only slate colored blues in the mountains of Colorado, so it is nice to read about the mutations and research regarding the possibility of a subspecies. What a magnificent and bird! Thanks

  19. Michele R Smith

    I have witnessed and photographed several white nestlings in blue heron nests. They seem two per nest. I took these photos in Horseshoe Bay Texas today 3/23/15. Yesterday I saw three grown solid white adults and a possible young one flying over head. I’d only seen white ones one other time in the last year I’ve lived here.
    I’m not certain how to post my pics

  20. Two white herons with yellow legs appeared on the Hudson river bank in NY at the route 87 northway bridge over the Hudson river between South Glens Falls exit 17 and Glens Falls exit 18 upstate NY August 18th early morning briefly
    They appeared the size and features of a Great Blue Heron, what could they be???
    Thanks
    Elwaine

    1. Hi Elwaine, Great Egret would be the expected large white heron there, but they have blackish legs, as I’m sure you know. Any other possibility is so rare that it would need to be documented with photos, etc. The possibility of albino Great Blue Herons, perhaps young from a local nest, exists (but I don’t know of any comparable records of that). If you see them again any photos would be very helpful.

      Best,
      David

  21. David Ammerman

    I have read all the above with great interest. The photo accessible (I hope) via the attached URL to Flickr shows a white heron on a GBH nest. I took this picture about a week ago at the Vaughn Hills Conservation Area in Bolton, MA. I returned today, (July 5, 2016) and the same three birds are still on the nest. To me, this is a bird morphologically the same as a GBH, with pale yellow legs and an all yellow bill. I have many other photos now, so if you would like to see other views of the bird, including with wings spread, I can provide them.

    https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7450/27495385853_a2cb4963fb_c.jpg

    1. Hi David, Very exciting! Thanks for the info and the link. That’s not far from my home so I will try to get there and see it myself in the next few days. Since it’s a nestling it obviously can’t be a vagrant Great White Heron from Florida, and must be a partial albino, a local Great Blue Heron lacking melanin in the plumage, legs, and bill. It will be really interesting to watch it and see what can be learned.

        1. Thanks for the update. When I saw it a couple of weeks ago it was noticeably bigger than its nest-mates, which was presumably due to it being the first hatched of that family. I would expect it to be the same size as its siblings now, but I’d be curious to know if that’s true.

  22. yesterday, 8/31/2016 in warren, ma. I saw on my pond a snow white blue heron in the water. it lifted off when it saw me and it was flying with a normal blue heron. it circled and then landed across the pond in a large tree. it’s bright white really stood out in the darkness of the tree, even across the pond. a magnificent bird!!!

    ron

  23. Andrew Haffenden

    A GWHE turned up on Dauphin Island AL Aug 24 and remains. I have searched for any descriptions of non-nestling GB/GW parented birds as in TX, but as mentioned above have been able to find nothing. Pictures of the DI bird can be found on Flickr. The flying spread-wing shot was taken by the original finder of the bird, the rest by me. Plumage looks very even, and the tail feathers look rounded rather than blunt. However, lack of experience makes it difficult for me to age this white bird on plumage. Any help appreciated. The main goal is to decide, if possible, whether this is a vagrant occidentalis. or a locally bred white morph. We do have a small GBHE rookery on the island, and the bird’s behavior might suggest a young bird. It has stayed in the one small area for nearly 2 weeks, is not particularly concerned about people in fact seems to prefer being closer rather than further away. However, it does not haunt reasonably nearby fisherman as many GBHEs do. It did run towards a nearby GBHE, who flew off. https://www.flickr.com/photos/79155220@N08/albums/72157672390022582

  24. Linda Voytovich, September 24,2016, Michigan

    I have been biking to a swamp nearby and have been seeing 2 white herons, I believe, almost every day. They are beautiful and are very easily to find, being totally all white. There is also a blue heron there, which I only see when it flies, since it is not easy to see at all. I am doing research on the white heron, to learn more about them and to determine what they are both doing there. Sometimes I scare them off, but they just make a circle and come right back, only farther away from the road.

  25. One mile north of Exit 32, southbound on Washington Interstate 5, at about 10 a.m. today, I watched a white heron fly well above the roadway to the northeast. Given its distance above my vehicle, it could have been a leucistic Great Blue.

  26. Thank you for your article. Yesterday, on Lake Georgetown in Central Texas, I watched a GBH fly across the lake and land in shallow water at lake’s edge. This was followed by a white flying a parallel path and landing ten feet away from the blue. Same size bird, shorter plume. I didn’t know such existed.
    Again, thank you for the information and history of this white heron.

  27. Both a great blue heron and another of same proportions but white flying side by side in a fascinating aerial dance, then landing to fish along the edge of the pond at the Krueger Haskell Golf Coarse in Beloit Wisconsin, August 8, 2017 at about 6pm for the second day in a row.
    The blue has been coming during our warmer months for a few years by itself; happy to see he’s acquired a companion.

  28. Ive been seeing a lot of Great White Herons here in Western Oregon. The blues have always been common but until recently I thought the white ones were Egrets. After living in Florida I wondered if they were the same bird…turns out they are.

  29. I live near Lexington, Kentucky. I saw a snow white great blue heron standing at the edge of a pond today. I was amazed, so I ended up on this website when I searched for albino blue heron. We have blue herons on every pond around here. They are abundant. Since there was no color but snow white in this bird, I figured it had to be an albino. Beak and legs identical to the blue herons I see almost everyday. Interesting discussion you have going here but I think I know what I saw. I’m a zoologist and have been birding for over 50 years. No way to take a picture, sorry.

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  32. Today, 4th of July, we spotted a white morph heron flying overhead in tandem with two great blue herons. All three birds, same size. We live in southern Indiana.

  33. Pingback: The Great White Heron – Mosaics In Science

  34. I live in Horn Lake, MS in Desoto County. There is a 50 acre lake that takes up 1 quarter of my 2 arce lot to which I planted a willow tree in the lake that is about 3 years old now. I have been here 24 years now and have always had blue herons feeding here. Recently a Great White has started coming here and a night it takes nest in that willow in the lake which isn’t very big or strong but it manages to land on it and nest at night. There is another one that shows up but seems more like a stalker to the first one. Their seem to be smaller than the Blue Heron and the blue ones haven’t been coming around lately. Though you might like to know since your maps don’t show any Great Whites in Mississippi. Tommy

  35. Pingback: Readers’ wildlife photos « Why Evolution Is True

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