Avian species come in a huge variety of morphologies, including many that have long legs. These long-legged birds are primarily aquatic species, utilizing their stilt-like legs to wade through water and vegetation. They can also aid the different foraging and hunting techniques each species uses.
Long legs are often coupled with long toes which are beneficial for soft mud and floating aquatic plants. Additionally, long-legged birds tend to have long necks and bills which also aid their wetland habitat lifestyles. Below is a list of avian species with long legs and some other notable features.
- List of Birds with Long Legs
- Cattle Egret
- List of Birds with Long Legs and Beaks
- List of Gray Birds with Long Legs
List of Birds with Long Legs
Having long legs provides the advantage of being able to stand in the water and tower over it, implementing a stand-and-wait hunting approach, as the little blue heron does. However, others such as the reddish egret utilize its long legs to quickly chase their prey.
Some aquatic prey, such as crustaceans consumed by flamingoes, roseate spoonbills, and scarlet ibis’, contain carotenoid pigments which result in the birds having pink plumage.
The long and slender legs of the purple gallinule allow it to walk nimbly along floating vegetation due to providing an even distribution of its weight.
Scientific Name: Butorides virescens
They have a chestnut breast with a glossy green cap, back, and wings. They reside amongst the vegetation of wetlands where they search for aquatic organisms, especially fish, upon which they feast. Green herons have long legs and toes, ideal for wading on soft ground. They are widely distributed throughout North and Central America.
Scientific Name: Bubulcus ibis
Cattle egrets have white plumage and a yellow bill. They inhabit grasslands near bodies of water where they nest in large colonies. Their long legs allow them to observe their environment effectively.
They reside among large mammals, catching the insects which are disturbed by them. Originating in the tropics of Africa they are now widespread throughout America, Europe, Asia, and Australia.
Scientific Name: Actitis hypoleucos
These birds have brown upper parts contrasted with white underparts. They are often observed bobbing up and down. Sandpipers live along the coast and eat mainly insects and crustaceans.
Their long, slender feet and legs are used to forage along the wet sand which they probe with their slender beak to obtain food. They breed across Europe and Asia and migrate to Africa and Australia.
Scientific Name: Porphyrio martinicus
Their plumage is a mixture of purple, green, blue, and black. They have a red and yellow bill and long yellow legs and toes. It is the latter that allows them to distribute their weight evenly to walk along floating vegetation.
They are omnivores, feasting on both animal and plant matter found near bodies of freshwater. Purple gallinules are widespread across America.
Little Blue Heron
Scientific Name: Egretta caerulea
These birds have a blue body with a maroon head and black-tipped bill. Their long legs are green-gray and facilitate their stand-and-wait predation style.
They perch in water patiently waiting for small fish and other aquatic organisms, which they will quickly grab with their beak. Little blue herons reside near marine and freshwaters throughout America and Caribbean Islands.
Black-Crowned Night Heron
Scientific Name: Nycticorax nycticorax
They have a gray-white plumage adorned with a black crown and back. Their stalk-like yellow legs enable them to perch on branches near the water’s edge in wait for prey. They forage in the evenings, feasting on various prey from fish to small mammals to carrion.
The Black-Crowned Night Heron is widespread throughout much of the world including America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Scientific Name: Ixobrychus exilis
The least bittern is one of the smallest species of heron in the world. They have white underparts adorned with light brown streaks. Its face, neck, and body are pale brown. The crown and back are glossy blacks in males and glossy brown in females.
Least Bitterns can often be observed perched in reed beds where they feast primarily on aquatic organisms. Their long legs allow them to easily straddle and wade through dense weed beds. Their range extends across most of America.
Scientific Name: Grus americana
The whooping crane reaches around 5 feet tall, making it the tallest bird in North America. They get their name due to the ‘whooping’ sound mating pairs call to one another. They have white plumage with black wingtips and a distinct red crown.
Whooping cranes favor grassy mashes which they move across using their stilt-like legs. They consume almost anything that resides in the marshes, such as mollusks and crustaceans. Whooping cranes are an endangered species with only around 600 left which are concentrated mainly in National Parks in Texas and Canada.
Scientific Name: Rallus aquaticus
Water Rails have blue-gray underparts with white barring and chestnut-brown upperparts adorned with black streaks. They have a long red bill and dark red eyes. They use their long, pink legs to maneuver through reed beds and freshwater wetlands where they feast on fish and invertebrates.
Water rails build their nests in dense vegetation, just above the surface of the water. These birds inhabit vegetated wetlands across Asia, North Africa, and Europe.
List of Birds with Long Legs and Beaks
Scientific Name: Egretta tricolor
Tricolored herons get their name from their plumage, which is a mixture of blue, gray, and purple. They have a white belly and a yellow bill and legs. During the breeding season, their bill becomes a bright blue and white plumes extend from the back of their head.
Tricolored herons slowly stalk prey through shallow waters such as lagoons and mangroves, using their long and slender legs. They quickly jab at prey, such as fish, crustaceans, insects, and reptiles. These birds reside along the Atlantic and Golf Coast.
Scientific Name: Jabiru mycteria
Jabirus have mainly white plumage except for the head and neck which is black and featherless, adorned with a vibrant red band at the base. They reside in flocks in aquatic biomes such as marshes, rivers, and coastal lagoons.
Jabiru uses their long legs to wade through the water and opens their large bill under the surface waiting for prey to enter. They feast on invertebrates, fish, and also carrion. Jabirus are mainly distributed across Mexico and Brazil.
Scientific Name: Platalea ajaja
Roseate spoonbills have pink plumage which is derived from the carotenoid pigments they obtain through their diet of crustaceans. The color can range from pale pink to bright magenta. They use their long legs to wade through fresh and coastal waters, whilst moving their spoon-shaped bill from side to side, grabbing aquatic organisms.
Their prey includes insects and small fish and amphibians. Roseate spoonbills range mainly throughout South America.
Scientific Name: Aramus guarauna
Limpkins have got their name due to their seeming limp when they walk. These birds have brown plumage speckled with white. Their long legs and toes mean they are fast runners and can also walk along floating vegetation. They forage in shallow waters in search of apple snails which make up the majority of their diet.
The long beak is adapted to their mollusk diet, being able to slip into the snail’s shell and consume it without needing to break the shell. Its distribution ranges from the warm wetlands in Florida to Argentina.
Scientific Name: Eudocimus ruber
As their name suggests, their plumage is vibrant scarlet which is a result of the carotene pigment found in the crustaceans they eat. Their bill is black during the breeding season.
Their stilt-like legs allow them to move through waters whilst their long, curved bill is used to probe vegetation and mud in search of food. They are distributed along the coast of South America.
Scientific Name: Mycteria americana
These birds have featherless heads and necks, showing their scaly, gray skin. Their plumage is mostly white with tail feathers and wing tips. They feed in groups in open wetlands, consuming mainly fish.
Wood Storks forage using their long legs to walk through the water whilst submerging their long bill to obtain food. They are mainly populated in South America.
Scientific Name: Plegadis chihi
Their plumage is a mixture of red, green, brown, and purple. When breeding, adults have a bare pink face outlined with white feathers. They have long, pink legs and a curved gray bill. They favor warm, coastal marshes with dense vegetation which they wade through.
Their slender bill is used to probe for prey ranging from snails to crayfish to frogs. White-faced ibis can be found in Canada, Central America, and South America.
Scientific Name: Plegadis falcinellus
Glossy ibis’ have red-brown bodies with shiny green wings. They feed in shallow waters that have tall, dense vegetation, moving through them using their long legs. Their diet is varied but mainly consists of aquatic invertebrates which they obtain by using their slender bill to probe the soft mud.
The Glossy Ibis is widely distributed throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, ad America.
List of Birds with Long Legs and Necks
Scientific Name: Phoenicopterus rubber
The iconic pink plumage of flamingos is a result of carotenoid pigments found in the shrimp that make up their diet. Whilst standing in the water on their long legs, their long necks allow them to put their beak into the water upside down, which may seem a little dumb, but this bird has evolved this technique as an effective way to filter feed. They inhabit warm regions close to salty waters such as in parts of Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America.
Scientific Name: Botaurus lentiginosus
They have compact bodies which are covered in a streaked pattern of brown and white feathers. This coloration makes for effective camouflage against the marshy vegetation of freshwaters where they reside.
They are stealthy predators, using their long necks to point their bill upwards, maximizing crypsis. Fish make up the majority of their diet. They are distributed in Canada and North America.
Scientific Name: Ardea purpurea
Purple herons have a red-brown plumage with a darker grey back and black crowns. Their long, orange legs help them blend in with their surroundings, being reed beds near bodies of water. They often stand and wait for prey such as fish, rodents, and insects, to ambush. They use their long necks to quickly snatch their prey from the water’s edge. This species breeds in Africa, Europe, and Asia.
Scientific Name: Ardea alba
These birds have bright white plumage with a striking yellow bill and eyes. Their long legs are perfect for standing in shallow waters looking for prey to consume. They spear insects, frogs, and fish with their sharp beak. When in flight, they keep their long neck retracted. Great Egrets are distributed throughout America but favor marsh habitats.
Scientific Name: Egretta thula
Snowy egrets have entirely white plumage with yellow lores and feet and a black bill and legs. Their diet consists of fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and reptiles which they hunt for in shallow waters. They may sit and wait for prey or use their feet to disturb the water to stir up prey. Their range stretches from North to South America.
Scientific Name: Egretta rufescens
The reddish egret has two morphs: dark and white. Dark morphs have a grey body and rust-colored head and neck. White morphs have an entirely white plumage. They use their long legs to chase fish through shallow, saltwater habitats, herding them toward land in order to catch them. They are located along the coasts of North and Central America.
Scientific Name: Antigone canadensis
Sandhill cranes have gray plumage with bright red face. Their diet is mainly herbivorous, foraging in vegetated wetlands for berries, seeds, and other plant matter. Although, they occasionally feed on insects, mollusks, and amphibians. They forage with their bills in the ground of shallow waters. Sandhill cranes are distributed throughout America.
List of Gray Birds with Long Legs
Great Blue Heron
Scientific Name: Ardea Herodias
The great blue heron has a blue-grey plumage with a white face. Their diet consists mainly of fish which they stalk in aquatic habitats, using their long legs to wade through the water. They are native to North America although migrate South during the breeding season.
Scientific Name: Ardea cinerea
The gray heron has a slate-gray body and wings with a white-gray neck and head adorned with a black crest. These apex predators are stealthy hunters, waiting for prey to strike near the water’s edge. They feast on an array of organisms from fish to mammals to birds. They have an extensive range, occupying wetland habitats in Europe, Africa, Asia, and America.
Gray Crowned Crane
Scientific Name: Balearica regulorum
The gray-crowned crane has a blue-grey body and neck with brown and gold wing feathers. They have a black and white face and a red gular pouch.
They have a head plume of golden feathers. They inhabit wetlands and grasslands and have an omnivorous diet, feeding on plants, insects, and eggs of aquatic organisms. They are distributed through Eastern and Southern Africa.
You may also like to read Unusual Birds That Sound Like A Car Alarm