Across the globe, birds exist in a variety of morphologies. From size to shape to color, no two avian species are exactly alike. Depending on their environment, birds rely on various survival strategies.
Avian species vary greatly in the number of vertebrae they have in their neck, hence the variation in neck length seen across birds. Species that have long necks tend to inhabit aquatic environments and utilize a wading foraging style.
This article will cover 20 different bird species that have long necks, highlighting their physical characteristics, diet, behavior, and distribution.
- List of Birds with Long Necks
- List of Colorful Birds with Long Necks
- List of White Birds with Long Necks
List of Birds with Long Necks
Many birds with long necks tend to have long, narrow, and pointed beaks. This is true for the black-headed heron and great egret who spear their aquatic prey with their sharp bill.
Flamingoes, however, have thick bills that curve downwards, their long necks allow them to place their bill upside-down underneath the water, in order to catch crustaceans to consume. Long necks provide both length and height, especially when coupled with stilt-like legs.
The goliath heron uses this to its advantage, being able to search for and catch prey that is some distance from where they are perched.
Great Blue Heron
Scientific Name: Ardea Herodias
The great blue heron has a gray-blue body and neck. Their face is white with black stripes on either side. They have slate gray plumes on the back of their head as well as at the base of their long neck. These birds inhabit aquatic environments, wading through shallow waters in search of prey.
Fish are their main food source, but they also feast on insects, rodents, amphibians, and birds. Using their long neck they can strike at prey from a distance and throw their head back to swallow the prey whole. They are native to North America although migrate South during the breeding season.
Scientific Name: Ardea melanocephala
The black-headed heron has gray plumage with a black cap that contrasts with its white throat. Its underwings are white with black tips. During the flight, they retract their long necks. This species resides in shallow waters, spearing prey it stalks with its sharp beak. They feed on fish, frogs, insects, birds, and mammals.
Black-headed herons live in open grasslands near water sources, and nest in colonies in treetops. Their range extends throughout Africa and Madagascar.
Scientific Heron: Ardea goliath
The goliath heron is the largest heron in the world, standing 5ft tall. Their body is slate gray whilst their neck and head are chestnut brown in color. Their throat is white and dabbled with black streaks.
They live in wetland habitats like marshes and rivers where they hunt for large fish and aquatic organisms. Due to their long neck, they can stab prey with their open bill that is some distance from where they are standing. These birds are native to Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
Scientific Name: Aramus guarauna
Limpkins have mainly brown plumage speckled with white across the head, neck, and body. These birds are so-called due to their seeming limp when they walk. These birds wade through densely vegetated, shallow waters in search of apple snails which make up the majority of their diet.
Their long neck and beak allow them to grab snails hidden in aquatic plants. Their 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. Limpkins mainly inhabit the warm wetlands in Florida to Argentina.
Scientific Name: Ardea purpurea
Purple herons have a slate-gray body and wings and a chestnut-colored head and neck. Their head is adorned with a black crown and two black streaks run down either side of their whole neck. They can often be seen standing at the water’s edge waiting for prey such as insects, fish, and mammals to ambush.
Their red-brown neck and legs help them camouflage with their surrounding reed beds. They use their long necks to quickly snatch their prey from the water’s edge. This species is distributed throughout Africa, Europe, and Asia.
Scientific Name: Egretta rufescens
The reddish egret has two very different color morphs. The dark morph has a gray body and a red-brown head and neck. The white morphs have pure white plumage. They live in shallow, saltwater habitats and feed mainly on fish.
Reddish Egret stalk and chase their prey, utilizing their long neck to quickly dart their heads down and snatch up their prey with their bill. As such, they are the most active of the heron species. They are found along the coasts of North and Central America.
Scientific Name: Egretta tricolor
Tricolored herons are so called because they have plumage which is a mixture of blue, gray, and purple. They have a white belly and a yellow bill and long yellow legs. During the breeding season, their bill becomes a bright blue and white plumes extend from the back of their head.
They slowly stalk prey in shallow waters such as lagoons, salt marshes, and mangroves. Their long neck means they can quickly catch prey, such as fish and crustaceans, from a distance. They reside along the Atlantic and Golf Coast.
Scientific Name: Grus americana
The whooping crane is the tallest bird in North America, reaching around 5 feet tall. They have white plumage with black wingtips and a distinct red crown. These species are so-called due to their ‘whooping’ call mating pairs make to each other.
These birds favor grassy mashes, consuming almost anything that they find there, ranging from mollusks to crustaceans. which they move across using their stilt-like legs. They consume almost anything that resides in the marshes, such as mollusks and crustaceans.
Their long necks play a role in the male’s head-bobbing courtship dance. Whooping cranes are an endangered species with around 600 left, which are concentrated mainly in National Parks in Texas and Canada.
Scientific Name: Antigone canadensis
Sandhill crane’s bulky body is brown, and its neck is slate gray. Their forehead is a distinct bright red, and their legs and bill are long and dark gray. During flight, they keep their long necks extended. These birds follow a mainly herbivorous diet, feasting on berries, seeds, and other plant matter in vegetated wetlands.
Occasionally, they will consume insects, mollusks, and amphibians. They use their long necks to forage in the ground of shallow waters. These birds are distributed throughout America.
Scientific Name: Jabiru mycteria
Jabirus’ body is covered in white feathers whilst its head and neck are black and featherless. The base of their neck is adorned with a bright red band. They reside in flocks near rivers and ponds where they feast on aquatic organisms.
As they wade through the water on their long legs, they bend their long necks and open their large bill under the surface waiting for prey to enter. Their prey includes fish, invertebrates, and even carrion. These birds build twiggy nests high in trees, often making them deeper than they are wide. Jabirus are most common across Mexico and Brazil.
Scientific Name: Bubulcus ibis
Cattle egret’s plumage is entirely white during the winter months. However, during summer breeding months, their white plumage is adorned with orange-brown feathers on the head, chest, and wing tips. They inhabit grasslands near bodies of water where they nest in large colonies.
They can often be seen living among large mammals, hence their name, catching the insects which are disturbed by them. They also consume fish, amphibians, and reptiles, grabbing them with swift movements of their long neck. Originating in the tropics of Africa they are now widespread throughout America, Europe, Asia, and Australia.
List of Colorful Birds with Long 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. The intensity of their plumage is determined by the quantity of pigments they consume.
Whilst standing in the water on their long legs, their long necks and downward hooked beak allow them to utilize a unique feeding technique. They place their head upside down in the water and use their specially adapted beak to filter feed. They consume algae, larvae, and small crustaceans.
American flamingos inhabit warm regions close to salty waters such as in parts of Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America.
Scientific Name: Phoenicopterus roseus
The greater flamingo is the largest of the flamingo species, reaching almost 5 feet in height. Their plumage is a very pale pink although the wing coverts are bright red, and their flight feathers are black. When in flight, these wing colors are very visible.
The pink color is derived from the carotenoid pigments that are found in the shrimps they consume. They have a long neck and thick beak which is curved downwards, which allows specialized feeding.
Flamingos place their beak upside down under the surface of the salty water and filter out shrimp, algae, and mollusks. Flamingo species have thick, leathery skin covering their legs to help tolerate the highly saline waters they reside in. They inhabit salty waters and are distributed along the coastal regions of Africa, Asia, and Europe.
Scientific Name: Platalea ajaja
Roseate spoonbills have a bright pink body whilst the neck and head are white. Their pink plumage is the result of the carotenoid pigments they obtain through their crustacean-heavy diet. The pink color can range from pale to bright magenta. They also feed on aquatic insects, amphibians, and tiny fish, swinging their elongated, spoon-shaped bill from side to side as they wade through the water.
Roseate spoonbills are often found feeding in groups in both fresh and coastal shallow waters. They are distributed mainly in South America.
As suggested by their name, scarlet ibis’ plumage is vibrant scarlet. This color is derived from the carotene pigment found in the crustaceans they eat. They have a narrow, downward-curving bill that is black and contrasts with their bright feathers.
Their wing tips are also black. They move in flocks through wetlands including shorelines, mud flats, and rainforests. Their long neck and bill are used to probe vegetation and mud in search of food. These birds are distributed along the coast of South America and the Caribbean Islands.
White-faced ibis’ 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 and long neck are used to probe the shallow waters for prey. They eat a variety of organisms ranging from snails to crayfish to frogs. These birds breed in marshes, building scrubby nests on the ground. White-faced ibis can be found in Canada, Central America, and South America.
List of White Birds with Long Necks
Scientific Name: Eudocimus albus
The white ibis has a plumage that is entirely white but it is contrasted by its bright orange legs, face, and bill. The tip of their bill is black and curved downwards. They forage in groups in shallow wetland habitats including coastal marshes, mangrove swamps, and even wet lawns.
They use their long bill to probe into the soft ground below in search of food. Their prey is mainly small aquatic organisms and crayfish are the preferred food source. The white ibis is most common in Florida, but its range also extends into Central America and Mexico.
American White Pelican
Scientific Name: Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
The American white pelican boasts a plumage that is almost entirely white, apart from the wing tips which are black. They have bright yellow-orange legs with webbed feet. Their large bills are also bright yellow-orange and during the breeding season, a bulbous projection forms near the tip of the upper mandible.
As indicated by their webbed feet, these birds spend a lot of time swimming in the water, which is when they feed. They forage in groups, taking large gulps of water with their skin pouch. The water is screened out whilst the fish and other aquatic prey are consumed. Their range extends through North, Central, and South America.
Scientific Name: Ardea alba
The great egret has a bright white plumage that is contrasted by its striking yellow bill and eyes. Their long, black legs are perfect for standing in shallow waters looking for prey to consume. They feed on a variety of prey such as insects, frogs, and fish. They patiently wait for prey to pass by when they will quickly stab them with a sharp movement of their neck and bill.
When in flight, these birds keep their long neck retracted. Great Egrets favor shallow, marshy habitats and are distributed throughout the warm and tropical regions in Asia, Africa, America, and Southern Europe.
Scientific Name: Egretta thula
Snowy egrets have an entirely white plumage. Their beak and legs are black which are contrasted by their yellow feet and lores. Their diet consists of fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and reptiles which they hunt for in shallow waters.
Snowy egrets use a variety of hunting techniques. They may sit and wait for prey to ambush, shuffle their feet to disturb the water, and stir up prey or graze their feet along the water’s surface whilst flying above it. Their range stretches across North, Central, and South America.
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