Nothing reminds us that they are living dinosaurs like birds with long necks. They are much smaller than their prehistoric cousins, but that articulated neck is straight out of Jurassic Park.
Evolution is a wondrous thing, with adaptations to environments leading to strange creatures. Most long-necked birds are also long-legged. This allows them to wade into the water and pluck fish with their long necks.
While not all birds with long necks are found near water, the ostrich and emu as prime examples, most of them have adapted to aquatic environments. Long-necked birds tend to be the larger size with wide wingspans and have long beaks for grabbing fish or digging in the mud for insects and crustaceans.
Birds with long necks including:
- American Flamingo
- Cattle Egret
- Great Blue Heron
- Great Egret
- Reddish Egret
- Glossy Ibis
- Snowy Egret
- Wood Stork
- White-faced Ibis
- Whooping Crane
But before you head out looking for birds, ensure you have a good pair of binoculars. Your optics will play a big role in how well you can identify the bird species you are looking at.
1. American Flamingo
The American Flamingo is a large, long-necked, long-legged bird that is hard to miss. They are bright pink with a sharply curved beak.
They can be found as far north as Florida and the Texas coast, down to the Caribbean and South America.
They can also be found in the Galapagos Islands. These flamingos vary because they are smaller than the continental versions and the females are larger than the males.
They settle in coastal marshes feeding on crustaceans, fish, snakes, and larvae. Their curved beak allows them to scoop up mud and water and filter for food, much like a pelican.
When courting for reproduction, American Flamingos will usually pair up, but it isn’t unusual to see trios and quartets. In these mating groups, the dominant male and female will usually tend to the nest.
The American Flamingo uses mud as a building material to build their nests. Check out other birds that build their nests with mud.
In the early 1900s, American Flamingos were thought extinct in Florida, but they are making a comeback in the Florida Keys and southern shallow water bays.
2. Cattle Egret
The Cattle Egret is a small white heron that has expanded its territory to cover most of the planet. They have relatively long yellow beaks and thick, short necks.
So named because they tend to follow herds of cattle, this bird follows herds and eats the insects and vertebrates that their foraging stirs up.
The expansion of cattle farming worldwide led to them expanding their territory.
They can often be seen on the backs of cattle, eating the ticks from their hide. This can lead to the spread of tick-borne illnesses.
3. Great Blue Heron
The Great Blue Heron is a large bird with blue-gray coloring. It has long legs and a long beak making it well adapted to shallow aquatic environments like shorelines and marshes.
They are found all over North America, but those that breed in northern climates migrate south in the fall.
The largest heron in North America, the Great Blue Heron, feeds on small fish, crustaceans, insects, frogs, and small mammals. They hunt by slowly stalking their prey before a lightning strike will either snap it up in their beak or spear it with the sharp tip.
They are solitary when feeding but tend to nest in large colonies.
Great Blue Herons are monogamous breeders but will find a new partner each season. When nesting, they have elaborate courtship displays and ritualized behavior such as clicking their beak when changing which parent is guarding the nest.
While a very large bird, Great Blue Herons tend only to weigh around 5-6 lbs.
There is a subspecies of Great Blue Heron in South Florida that is almost totally white.
4. Great Egret
The Great Egret is slightly smaller than the Great Blue Heron and has a slimmer body. This member of the heron family is white with a yellow beak and black legs.
During mating season, the patch around their eyes turns a bright green, and they grow a long plume from their back. These plumes were highly prized for decorating hats and clothing, which led to their near extinction in the late 1800s.
Great Egrets can be found over most of the south and eastern parts of North America during the breeding season. They migrate south from Florida to South America in the winter.
They nest in coastal marshes, wetlands, and ponds. This places them near their food sources which are predominantly small fish.
They hunt by standing still in the water and waiting in an ambush for fish to pass.
Great Egret nests can be quite dangerous places once the chicks hatch. It is common for the larger siblings to kill the smaller ones in the nest in a competition for food.
The Limpkin is a long, gangly bird that is brown and white. It is most closely related to cranes and shares a similar body type of thin body with long legs and neck.
The long beak has evolved to make them experts at harvesting Apple snails. The curve at the end of the beak allows them to reach into the twisting snail shells.
In areas with many Apple Snails, you can often track the Limpkin by the piles of empty snail shells on the shore.
Located from Florida and the Gulf Coast down to South America, the Limpkin is a tropical wetlands bird.
The Limpkin got its name when early Europeans saw it walk. When moving slowly, it seems to have a limp, but when it decides to run quickly, that disappears.
6. Reddish Egret
The Reddish Egret is in the heron family with long legs and beaks to go with the long neck. They can be found either almost white or a steely gray.
When mating, the Reddish Egret doesn’t seem to stick to its color morph. They all seem to carry the genes for either color.
They can be found along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Central America.
Unlike most herons, they are very active hunters, either flying or running through the water to pursue fish and other aquatic prey. Their hunting style is reminiscent of the T-Rex from Jurassic Park.
They nest in trees and mangrove swamps, building their nest in secluded spots above the waterline.
Since the Reddish Egret is so active and tends to settle in secluded spots, it is smart to bring a spotting scope. This will allow you to see them from a further distance than binoculars.
7. Glossy Ibis
The Glossy Ibis is a dark bird that, on closer inspection, is a mix of many subtle colors. Deep scarlet, burgundy, emerald green, and brown can all be seen in the right light.
They have a long, sickle-shaped beak for harvesting insects, small fish, and crustaceans. They tend to forage in a flock, methodically working their way through sections of shallow wetlands.
They can be found on the east coast from Maine to Florida and the Caribbean. The birds in the northern areas will fly south for the winter, but in warmer climates, they stay year-round.
These nomadic birds move from one feeding ground to another over the season. Ibis nest in colonies for communal protection from predators.
8. Snowy Egret
The Snowy Egret, as the name implies, is all white with black beaks and legs. Their feet are bright yellow with a patch of yellow between the beak and the eyes.
They can be found on the Coasts from Maine to California. They migrate to warmer climates in winter.
They feed on small fish, insects, worms, and crustaceans found in tidal pools, salt flats, and shallow marshes.
When foraging along the shore, they tend to kick up prey with their feet before plucking it up with their beaks.
During the mating season, the Snowy Egret grows puffy plumes that were highly prized in the 1800s. This led to some of the first conservation efforts to protect these birds.
The Snowy Egret is not a picky breeder as they have been known to breed with other heron species. This has led to various hybrids that can be hard to identify.
9. Wood Stork
The Wood Stork is a large, long-beaked bird that forages along shores for fish and crustaceans. They stand about three feet tall and have a white and black coloration.
Wood Storks can be found in the coastal wetlands of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. If not foraging at the water edge with head down and body bent over, you can find them roosting in trees near the shore.
To keep their young cool in hot weather, storks regurgitate water over the chicks to keep them cool.
The stork is a figure of mythology associated with birth and a connection between heaven and earth. European folklore held that storks delivered babies.
10. White-faced Ibis
The White-Face Ibis is the western cousin of the Glossy Ibis. They are similar, roughly the same size, and have sharply downward curved beaks. It is believed the White-Faced Ibis is an adaptation of the early Glossy Ibis that flew west.
They have a patch of white around the eyes but are otherwise dark with subtle metallic colors of green, purple, and bronze.
They breed throughout California, Oregon, Montana, and Idaho and a mix of spots throughout the west. In winter, they can be found in Texas, New Mexico, Nevada, and Mexico.
They look for shallow wetlands and marshes, digging in the soil for worms and other small prey.
The White-Faced Ibis is known to collect human trash, such as shotgun shells and cigarette lighters, and incorporate them in their nests.
11. Whooping Crane
The Whooping Crane is the tallest bird in North America. They can reach a height of 5 feet and weigh 15 lbs.
They are white with a long beak and legs. The top of the head of the male is crimson red.
The Whooping Crane is one of the rarest birds in North America. They almost went extinct in the the1940s due to hunting and loss of habitat. Conservation efforts, along with captive breeding, have brought the population back to around 800 birds in the wild.
In winter, they can be found in Arkansas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Their summer breeding grounds are in a remote national park in Canada.
They got their name from the loud, bugling call. An abnormally long trachea, combined with their size, allows them to make signaling calls that can be heard for many miles.
The Whooping Crane walks with a strut and does elaborate leaping courtship dances to win a mate.