Wading Birds



This summer at the beach, there is a whole world of birds out there, but can you tell your storks from your coots?  

As we mentioned in our article, “The Three Types Of Beach Bird“, there are…you guessed it, THREE types of beach bird.  

To recap quickly, there are Shore Birds, found close to the shore, which include birds like turnstones, curlews, and plovers.  

There are Sea Birds, who are often far from shore, and often can be found migrating across continents.  Sea birds of course, don’t necessarily stay away from shore forever, but they may hang around people too much.  

And then, there are the wading birds, which we want to talk about today.  Here is a quick compendium of some of the wading birds you may see along the coastlines around the world…


Hailing from the heron family, this variety of the species are shorter in the neck than their longer necked cousins.  

These are principally wading birds, who live on reed beds and marshlands.

Their diet consists mainly of reptiles, insects, amphibians and fish.

Whilst in flight, their necks will retract, rather than elongate like some similar species do. 

However, because of their secretive nature, you may be hard pressed to spot this elusive bird!


As the name suggests, these live within the USA. 

The American bittern favors spending their summers in the more northerly parts, and then wintering in the southern states.

This is a medium sized heron, with a stockier base, and thickset neck.  Its bill is straight, with a sharp end.

Its colouring consists of several shades of brown, with some lined markings.

This shy bird is unlikely to be spotted outside of the reeds or marshes, so if you see one, you are indeed fortunate.


In Louisiana, the American coot is still known by its French name, “Poule d’eau”, meaning water hen, or moorhen.  

This is a migratory species, that may be observed along the coastal regions during their ‘vacation’ period.  

They do not always reside by the seaside, as they need fresh water during breeding, and can often be seen around ponds and reservoirs when nesting.

When they are in groups, they can be a noisy and aggressive lot, as well as very territorial.  

Their diet consists of plants, leaves, pondweed, insects, bird eggs, snails, worms and fish.

Their appearance is striking, with red eyes, colored bills and mainly black plumage.

Because some coot clutch sizes are so big, the parent has difficulty feeding them, and either leaves the weaker chicks to perish, or sometimes actually kills them.  

This results in only two or three chicks surviving.


Coming from the French word “aigrette” meaning silver heron, this species is notable for its long feathers, for which it has been highly prized.

This is its pulling outfit, so to speak, that it dons during mating season.

There are at least four species of egret to look out for this summer.


Fond of lawns, fields and pastureland, this is so named because they graze with animals such as cattle.

White in color, and with notable buff plumes, this is a colonial nesting bird which likes to build its nests near water, despite its predilection for grassy areas.

Bulky in stature, this is a type of heron with a smaller, thin neck, a stout bill and a hunched posture.

During breeding season, its bill, eyes and legs all turn red. 
 Cattle egrets are found all over North America, in both breeding and migratory capacities.

This species subdivides into two smaller species, the western cattle egret, and the eastern cattle egret.


These were almost wiped out in the U.S., back in the 1800s, by the fashion industry’s demand for this egret’s very large plumes.  Since then, this grand bird has made a remarkable comeback.

It is a tall, white wading bird, which is now fairly populous, especially in the southern areas of the U.S., but may also be seen further north, especially as the later summer months progress.


Like the great egret, this bird was also hunted relentlessly in the nineteenth century for its beautiful plumes, to almost extinction.

This is a very elegant bird, which wades through the shallow waters in its ‘golden slippers’, or bright yellow feet.

Despite its graceful appearance, it has a rather raucous cry, which makes it notable.

A resident of Florida all year round, this pretty bird also frequents southern coastal regions, breeding further to the north.


A very long legged, long necked bird which favors salt water, and so is the most likely to be spotted at the seaside.

Texan birds may decide to go south in winter, although many do opt to stay put, all year round. 

It feeds mainly, but not exclusively on fish, as well as crustaceans and insects, and commences its breeding in Florida in the winter, although in Texas, you will have to wait until spring to catch them nesting.

The reddish egret also does a fairly entertaining “feeding dance”, which you can see in the following video.


The ibis is a long-legged wading bird, which generally inhabits wetlands, plains, and forests, and are known for munching on crustaceans with their down-turned bills.

The word “ibis” is Egyptian in origin, and dates back to biblical days when Noah reputedly released them from the ark as a sign of fertility.  There are many other symbolic tales about the ibis as well.

Is there just one type of ibis?  Far from it!  There are many, many different types of ibis, including the crested ibis, the northern bald ibis, and the straw-necked ibis, to name but a few.  The list of different types of ibis is really rather long!

All types of ibis can fly (volant), although there was once certain types of ibis that were flightless. These birds are quite territorial about their nests, which are usually found in trees. 

Read our feature article, “Ibises Of North America” to find out more about this fascinating bird!


A large wading bird traditionally bringing newborns, there are two types to be seen in North America, the wood stork, and the jabiru.

This is the only truly native stork to reside in North America.  It is a noisy, big bird, with a large, cumbersome beak.  It flies slowly, but high in the sky.

Unfortunately, their numbers are dwindling rapidly.  Where once there was estimated to be around 150,000, it is now thought that their numbers have diminished sharply.

Diet is mainly fish, but they will take other species as prey, including snakes, turtles and even baby alligators!

Not known as a migratory species, these still flock northwards after breeding.  

The eastern Mexican bird heads up to the Texan coast over summer, and the Floridian birds may be found in the eastern states of the U.S.

Both parents are present in the task of chick rearing, with one party dedicating itself to the task of bouncer or bodyguard, for the vulnerable fledglings.


A very large bird measuring about fifty inches.  This has a big bill, nine to thirteen inches in length, which is wide and black, as is its neck and face.

The rest of it, is largely white, and it has a featherless red patch at the base of its neck.  Although it may seem a little clumsy on land, this is a very graceful creature to observe when in flight.

Mainly residing in South America, namely Mexico and Argentina, these are a widely spread, but not highly populous species, which have bolstered their numbers since being listed as threatened in 1988.

Some sightings have been seen as far north as Texas and Oklahoma.


The larger of the flamingos on the American continent, but not the largest in the world, this is nevertheless an impressive creature.

Mainly pink in color, it is a striking fifty inches tall.  You will definitely not miss it, if you see it!

Long term relationships are important to flamingos, but they are not monogamous, and can and do split up from partnerships to form bonds elsewhere.  Sometimes love triangles (trios) form.

Trios with two males and one female, fare better than a nest that tries to incorporate two rival females, and a sole male though!

This is now sadly a less common visitor to the United States, than it used to be, although it may be spotted in Everglades National Park.


The heron family is a large one, comprised of sixty four differing species, taking in the aforementioned egrets and bitterns.

Generally speaking, most breeds of heron are monogamous, and the species divides itself between day herons, and night herons.  They are mainly a medium to large wading bird.

Six species are known to inhabit North America: the great blue heron, the green heron, the black crowned night heron, the yellow crowned night heron, the tri-colored heron, and the little blue heron.


This is the biggest of all the herons currently living in North America, and it is fairly widely distributed, from Canada to Mexico and beyond.

A water loving wading bird, it is firmly at home on the coastlines of America, as well as in fresh water settings as well.

With a slate blue flight plumage, gray neck and reddish brown thighs, the great blue heron can sometimes be confused with other birds to which it is related, like the great egret or great white heron.


The smallest of the North American herons, this bird is about seventeen inches in length. 

Most of these colorful birds will fly away in the winter, from all states except the most southerly tip of the United States.

These shy creatures are a rare example of ‘tool using’ birds, using items such as crusts of bread, as bait to lure fish.  

They live around water of all descriptions.

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About the author: Sandor is a former stock broker and current tour guide and treasure hunter, travelling far and wide seeking buried treasure.  He has found some very interesting artifacts in his searches.  He is also an avid bird watcher and is an advocate for rare and endangered birds.

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