Birds have an incredible amount of biodiversity among their orders and families, and long legs are a physical characteristic that spans across taxonomic classifications—a fact which, as an avid bird-watcher, has always fascinated me.
In fact, I so admire the inherent gracefulness, delicateness, and—in some cases—power of long-legged birds that I decided to make a thorough study of them.
Here is a list of 15 of the most well-known long-legged birds including their scientific names and a description of their features.
Scientific Name: Mycteria americana
Wood storks are medium-sized wading birds found in marshes, wetlands, and swamps. Wood storks are all white except for their scaly heads, which are bald, and their tail and flight feathers, which are black. These birds feed on fish that they hunt while wading through still water or swampy areas.
Wood storks are a North American species and can be found throughout the Caribbean tropic and subtropic areas around the Gulf of Mexico. Within the United States, wood storks can be found in the swampier areas of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.
Fun Fact: In Western culture, storks are often known as the bird that delivers babies, but this myth is more associated with the White Stork of Europe, not the Wood Stork.
Scientific Name: Phoenicopterus ruber
There are actually six different species of flamingo, all making up the Phoenicopteridae family. The American flamingo, Phoenicopterus ruber, is the type that comes to mind for most North Americans. P. ruber is easily identified by its bright salmon-pink coloring and large size.
Flamingos have a similar range to wood storks. These birds can be found in flocks all around and throughout the Caribbean and into the northern part of South America as well.
Fun Fact: Baby and juvenile P. ruber flamingos are not pink. Young birds are brown and white and don’t attain the characteristic hot pink color until around two or three years of age.
Emus are giant flightless birds native to Australia. They are the second-largest bird in the world, next to ostriches.
Emus prefer to roam in open fields, either in small flocks or groups as large as several hundred. They are very good runners and can reach speeds of over 30 miles an hour. Although they can’t fly, emus do use their wings to help propel and steer themselves while running. They also use their wings to cool themselves down. Emus live anywhere from 10-20 years in the wild. Interestingly, male emus sit and warm the eggs once the female has laid them.
Fun Fact: Emus have two sets of eyelids. The inner set is used for blinking, the outer set for keeping dust out of the eye.
Scientific Name: Ardea alba
The Great Egret is a wading bird about the size of a goose. It is all-white except for its yellow bill and black legs. Great Egrets inhabit both fresh and saltwater areas, mostly marshes. As a wading bird of standing water, Great Egrets hunt for fish by jabbing their beak in the water, although they do occasionally dive as well. As migratory birds, Great Egrets have a very broad range and can be found throughout Latin America and in much of the United States.
Fun Fact: Great Egrets fly at about 25 miles per hour with just two wing beats per minute, cruising between wing flaps.
Scientific Name: Egretta tricolor
As the name suggests, tricolored herons are relatively colorful birds. Adults usually have a mix of blue-gray, purple, and white plumage. Tricolored herons are easily identifiable by the white stripe down their neck and their white belly.
Tricolored herons are a good-sized bird, roughly between the size of a crow and a goose. They are standing water hunters and can be found in coastal and brackish waters. These herons stick to the coastal areas. Tricolored herons can be found along both coasts of North and South America, tapering off where the climate becomes too cold.
Fun Fact: Tricolored heron adults bow to their chicks as they bring food back to the nests. This is thought to keep the chicks from lunging and snapping at their parents.
Scientific Name: Eudocimus albus
The white ibis, also known as the American White Ibis, is a wading bird. They are relatively small, around the size of a crow. Ibises hunt in flocks in fairly shallow water (eight inches or less) and live in wetlands, marshes, estuaries, and other areas with standing water.
Ibises are white with pink flesh. They can be found hugging the coastal waters of the southeastern United States, along their range does extend inland somewhat. They can also be found along the coasts of Mexico and throughout the Caribbean
Fun Fact: In Florida, ibises use parks, lawns, and boating ramps for hunting grounds instead of standing water.
Scientific Name: Antigone canadensis
Sandhill cranes are tall, elegant birds. The adults are gray-bodied with brilliant red heads. While these birds do inhabit wetlands, they can also be found in drier areas such as prairies or grasslands. Sandhill cranes can be found over much of North America, even into the Arctic.
Sandhill cranes are known for performing graceful mating dances during the breeding season. In the wintertime, sandhill cranes form massive flocks of 10,000 birds or more.
Fun Fact: Sandhill cranes are monogamous and mate for life, staying with their mate throughout the year. They can also live quite a long time—the oldest specimen on record was over 36 years old.
Great Blue Heron
Scientific Name: Ardea herodias
Great Blue herons are tall, elegant birds that live throughout most of North America, although their range extends down into the very northern coast of South America as well. Great Blue herons are standing water hunters and can occasionally be found in a backyard fishing from a koi pond.
As the name suggests, Great Blue herons are a grayish-blue color and have a somewhat “shaggy” appearance. They have a black stripe running down their face over the eye. Great Blue herons are quite large birds, although still smaller than sandhill cranes.
Fun Fact: Although they are very large birds, the average Great Blue heron only weighs five to six pounds. This is because Great Blue herons, like all birds, have hollow bones.
Scientific Name: Egretta thula
The Snowy egret is an all-white bird with a black bill and legs and a yellow head and feet. The Snowy Egret can be found throughout much of the southern half of North America at different times of the year. As migratory birds, the Snowy Egret does have year-round populations in Florida and the parts of the Caribbean.
Snowy Egrets hunt fish and other small animals typical of standing water hunters. This includes frogs, insects, and crabs. These birds prefer brackish water, although this is not a requirement.
Fun Fact: Snowy Egrets were once almost hunted to extinction due to their fashionable snow-white, wispy plumage. At one point, Snowy egrets were literally worth more than their weight in gold.
Scientific Name: Struthio camelus
The Common Ostrich is well known as the world’s largest bird. Ostriches can’t fly, but they do use their wings to fan themselves and perform mating rituals. Even though they can’t fly, ostriches are fantastic runners and are the fastest two-legged creature in the animal kingdom. They can reach speeds of up to 43 miles an hour.
Ostriches are native to the African continent, living in both the Saharan countries as well as the southern parts of Africa. They like dry, arid climates and do well in these conditions throughout the world as they are imported and farmed for their meat, feathers, and skin.
Fun Fact: The Common Ostrich has the largest eye of any land animal, and can go without drinking for several days.
Scientific Name: Platalea minor
The Black-Faced Spoonbill is an east Asia species, ranging from the eastern end of China and over into North and South Korea and Japan. Like all spoonbills, Black-Faced spoonbills have a long, flat beak that widens and flattens at the end, creating a spoon-like look.
Black-faced spoonbills are waterbirds, often inhabiting marshy areas, estuaries, mudflats, and lakes. These birds form large flocks and the only known nesting sites are currently located in North Korea.
Fun Fact: In 2012, the Black-faced spoonbill population was recorded at just over 2600 individuals, a marked improvement from a few years before when the total estimated population was 288 birds.
Scientific Name: Platalea ajaja
The roseate spoonbill is a medium-sized, brilliant pink wading bird. These birds eat small fish and aquatic invertebrates. Interestingly, roseate spoonbills may eat plants and other vegetation too. These birds feed by waving their bills side to side in the water, seeing what they may catch. Within the United States, roseate spoonbills can be found in Florida, Texas, and parts of Louisiana, although they can be located outside of the US too.
Fun Fact: Roseate spoonbills are sometimes confused with flamingos from a distance because of their brilliant pink color. Although the birds look nothing alike up close, they do have overlapping ranges and somewhat similar body types.
Scientific Name: Aramus guarauna
Limpkins are fairly large birds, larger than night herons. They are brown with white speckling all over their body. Limpkins can be found in coastal regions around the Gulf of Mexico, from the southeastern United States into the Caribbean.
Limpkins are unique in that they have a specially designed bill that is long and bent and twisted at the tip. This oddly shaped bill is specifically for catching apple snails and removing the snails from their shells. They often leave a litter of snail shells behind on a riverbank after a good night of eating.
Fun Fact: Limpkins have a rather strange, eerie call that they mostly make at night. The call has been described as “otherworldly.”
Yellow-Crowned Night Heron
Scientific Name: Nyctanassa violacea
Yellow-Crowned night herons are between the size of a crow and a goose. Their bodies are predominantly gray and white, and their head feathers give the bird its name with its vibrant yellow color.
Yellow-Crowned night herons are found along both coasts of Mexico and throughout Florida and the Caribbean. Populations move further north and further inland for breeding and nesting sites. These birds are standing water feeders, preferring crabs and crayfish.
Fun Fact: Yellow-Crowned night herons, contrary to their name, are active and forage for food both during the day and night. Their feeding time is usually tied to the ocean tides.
Scientific Name: Anastomus lamelligerus
The African Openbill can be primarily found in the eastern part of Africa, although its range is somewhat scattered throughout sub-Saharan Africa. These medium-sized black birds belong to the stork family and have a unique bill that has a gap between the two halves, giving the bird its name. The African openbill is a standing water hunter and, like the limpkin, its bill is specially designed to feast on snails and mussels, pulling the animals from their shells.
Fun Fact: African openbills almost exclusively eat snails and mussels. They breed during the rainy season, when their prey is more available.
Power and Grace
Humans continue to be fascinated by the array of diversity within the Aves class, and long-legged birds stand out among them. Such is clear in the fact that, all around the globe and throughout our own history as a species, long-legged birds have been prominently featured in artworks and other cultural artifacts.