Great White Heron Out-of-Bounds
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Most birders love surprises, especially the kind that involve a rare bird in an unusual location! The Philadelphia birding community was certainly excited when a Great White Heron was found in the Manayunk Canal, on the western side of the city. This is actually a white morph of the ubiquitous Great Blue Heron, widespread throughout our region. Interestingly, the Great White Heron was considered a separate species until 1973, before it was “lumped” into Great Blue Heron. There is active debate as to whether it will be elevated to species status in the near future. With that in mind, many people flocked to see the bird stalking a narrow channel of water in a busy neighborhood.
The Great White Heron (Ardea herodias occidentalis) is slightly larger than the Great Blue Heron, with a distinctly heavier bill, and pale yellow legs versus the dark legs of a Great Blue. The overall size, heavy bill and pale legs also separates it from the common, all-white Great Egret. Care is needed to separate these at a glance.
The Great White Heron’s normal range and habitat is the saltwater mangroves, bays, and coastline of the Florida Keys and Caribbean where they significantly outnumber the nominate species. Great Blue Herons are usually found in shallow, inland, freshwater and saltwater habitats throughout the United States.
There have been a number of extralimital records of Great White Heron east of the Mississippi River, as far north as Maine, and as far west as the Texas Rio Grande Valley. Though it should not be a surprise to find one in our region, it was still a great treat to see one in Philadelphia – the city’s first such record!
The Great White Heron can be seen (in their natural habitat) on our South Florida and Dry Tortugas tour. Hope you can join us!