How did you do?
Hopefully, not too much of a poser to start with, this photograph isn’t even a silhouette, though the light is rather harsh, masking some of the features. There is more than enough showing to make ID moderately straightforward. It is an all-white plumaged bird with a ‘heron’-shape, so is one of the birds we call an egret. The long, dagger-like orange bill on a relatively small head is enough in itself to clinch the ID. But there are other features worth considering: the very long neck, for instance, has a distinct, unorthodox kink in it, which a (much shorter necked) Little Egret would never show. The legs are dark and so are the feet (Little Egrets have yellow feet). There is plenty here to say that this is a Great White Egret.
KEY FEATURES Tall, very long-necked white heron Long-thin, dagger-like orange bill ’Kink’ in the long, thin neck Dark legs and feet
Here we have our first bird in silhouette. Perhaps the first thing that you will notice is that it has a longish, down-curved bill. This immediately rules out any of the true herons or Crane, which have straight bills. Indeed, any European storks are also ruled our by this bill, as is the Spoonbill, which has its own distinctively spatulate bill. The bill may have you thinking about Curlew or Whimbrel, which have similar beaks. But those wings are too broad, the neck too long, and the strong legs and feet extend too far beyond the tail, and that rear toe is far too big for a true ‘wader’. There is, of course, another bird which fits the bill (ahem... if you will excuse the pun). This bird is a Glossy Ibis, a bird which is becoming increasingly frequent in the UK.
KEY FEATURES Striking down-curved bill Quite broad wings Extended long neck Strong legs and feet protrude a long way beyond tail
At last a bird in ‘full colour’. This pale brown, yet well-marked bird is apparently flying over reeds of the same colour as its plumage. It is quite a thick set bird, which could even recall an owl or Buzzard in the field, if it weren’t for that long, heron-like bill. The neck in particular, looks short, but this is because it is folded up in the typically heron fashion, and the folds ‘disguised’ under feathering. So, a heron-like bird with well-marked plumage, including cryptically patterned wings, a black crown and short black moustachial stripe. There is only one British bird which fits this description, the Bittern. This is a typical view you may be lucky enough to get of one taking a brief relocating flight before disappearing back into the reeds.
KEY FEATURES Bird the ‘colours of a reedbed’ Neck ‘retracted’ and concealed in feathering to look thick Black crown and black face markings Well patterned and marked plumage
Thankfully, another bird ‘in colour’, and judging by the relatively small size of the head, this is a whopper (following the rule of thumb: the (proportionately)smaller the head, the bigger the bird). And the extended neck makes you think it could be perhaps a Crane (or a stork). But another look at that neck sees it isn’t held in a comfortable extended position, but has kinks in it, suggesting it is just about to be retracted heron-style, after all. Sometimes herons do this just after taking off or before landing. And surely there is too much m-shaped flex in those wings to fit with the giant stiff wings of a Crane. The blue grey wings and back, the black-streaked white neck, the white head and black head plumes all argue this is an adult Grey Heron.
KEY FEATURES Neck extended, unlike a typical heron Bowed wings Very long legs Bill, head and neck pattern and wing colours betray identity
In contrast with Bird 4, these two flying birds (in silhouette) appear to be flying with their necks stretched out in a natural, ‘relaxed’, rather than awkward, position. So they are probably not herons or egrets. Indeed, the flight style alone, as well as the bill, means we are probably dealing with storks or Cranes here. These latter two unrelated birds are both enormous and both fly in this way. However, both Black and White Storks have longer, thicker-based bills than these two individuals have. The deeply ‘fingered’ wings (which are held pretty stiffly, rather than in the m-shape of a heron) and the very long legs all point to these being Cranes.
KEY FEATURES Long straight neck held extended Relatively small head and bill Deeply ‘fingered’ wings Long legs extend well beyond tail
We finish with yet another silhouette, or rather near-silhouette. Like Bird 5, there are very obvious primary ‘fingers’ for the wing tips, a sign of a very large, broad-winged bird which is accustomed to soaring flight. The legs are long and strong. At the front end, the neck appears to be in a ’halfway’ position, neither fully extended or folded back (like a heron). However, judging by the dangling of the legs, this bird has just taken off or is coming into land. The bill is perhaps the biggest clue, with a long pointed, straight bill which has a thick base, much larger than that of a Crane, or a heron. We have here the typical structure of a stork. The hint of white and black plumage confirms this is a White Stork.
KEY FEATURES Massive ‘fingers’ for primaries Long, ‘strong’ legs Long, thickly based, pointed, straight bill Hint of white and black plumage just showing through