15 Amazing Birds With Long Legs (with Photos)

Birds With Long Legs

There is little in nature as distinctive or as delightful as a bird with long legs. Whether a bright pink Flamingo, a smaller and more subtly colored American Bittern or an elegant Sandhill Crane, a bird with long legs – sometimes seemingly way too long for the bird’s overall dimensions – is a sight you aren’t likely to forget.

So we here are Seabirsanctuary have put together a list of 15 remarkable long legged birds of all shapes, sizes and types, with a photograph and a brief description of each one.

Related Articles:

15 Birds With Long Legs Around The World

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These lovely and sometimes frankly freakish looking birds are not just in our imagination, and not just in zoos or sanctuaries, but many of them are quite common in wetlands and seaside wilderness around the continent and around the world, and so a list like this can be especially interesting to put together – because you may have actually spotted one of these long-legged beauties out there somewhere.

Whether it is a small bird with long legs, a big bird with long legs, a tall bird with long legs, a short and fat bird, a bright and colorful bird, a bird with long legs and a long neck, one that’s playful and raucous or one that streaks silently across the sky, exquisite and regal, such a sighting will certainly stir within the average person a desire to find out what kind of bird it was, and maybe find out a bit more about it.

So we are not in any way trying to create a complete and exhaustive list here – there are hundreds and hundreds of different birds we could have included! – but a few really special examples, which are not only beautiful and amazing birds, but also ones you might have actually seen in North America.

We are, then, aiming at offering a guide to extraordinary birds, that can maybe help you identify what you have seen, or just introduce you to some very special and beautiful species. 

We hope that this article has turned out to be equal parts enjoyable, informative, useful and fascinating, and especially hope that you have as much fun reading it as we have had putting it together!

And make sure to check out the Bonus Section at the end of the article, where we’ll recommend some excellent books you can get to do further research – or just see more and more amazing birds!

1. American Flamingo

1. American Flamingo

I put the American Flamingo (scientific name Phoenicopterus ruber) at the top of our list of birds with long legs not because it is one of the birds you are most likely to spot, but because it is quite possibly the bird most associated with long legs.

In fact, about the only places in North America an American Flamingo might be spotted – outside of a zoo, that is – are in extreme southern Florida or the tip of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, or very rarely along the Gulf of Mexico. Other than that, this iconic bird is seen mostly in South America, Africa, the Middle East, and extensively in the Bahamas, the Caribbean and Cuba.

With legs longer than its body – often three and a half to four feet long – this is a wading bird that lives primarily on algae, small fish and brine, larvae and plankton. And with its long, graceful neck, bright pink body, black wing edges and beak – and its imposing overall size! – the American Flamingo is one of the most recognizable birds in the world. 


2. American Avocet 

American Avocet 

A beautiful and elegant medium sized bird – around one and a half feet in length – the American Avocet (scientific name Recurvirostra americana) has a long, slender beak that curves gracefully up at the end. Its head and neck are a lovely pinkish orange color, which turns snowy gray in winter, and its wings have distinctive black and white markings.

Frequently seen along the front range of the Rocky Mountains and the northwestern United States during breeding, the American Avocet can be seen migrating all throughout the western states, and winters mostly in much warmer climates, like the coasts of the Carolinas and Florida, Cuba and Mexico.

The American Avocet uses its long gray legs for wading, and it most frequently feeds on crustaceans and water insects. Among other sophisticated offensive and defensive measures the Avocet has against predators, notably the young can leave the nest, and can fly, walk and swim often within 24 hours of hatching.


3. Black Necked Stilt

Black Necked Stilt

With an exceptionally apt name for a long legged bird, the Black Necked Stilt (scientific name Himantopus mexicanus) has extremely long legs compared to its body, and only its also exceptionally long and slender black beak seems to really match. The legs are pink, while the adult males and females have black wings and heads and snowy white faces, necks and undersides.

The Black Necked Stilt is seen during summer breeding in various western and central US states, including northern Nevada, southern Idaho and southeastern Oregon, parts of Arizona, Colorado and California and as far north as Montana, as well as along the coastal Carolinas and Florida and along the Gulf of Mexico. They winter in parts of Florida, Cuba, central Mexico and various regions in South America, and also in southern California.

Their elegant walk is something to see, especially as they saunter along wetlands – particularly bay areas, inlets and both freshwater and saltwater marshes – in search of crustaceans and water insects, but the Stilt sounds anything but elegant when disturbed, with a harsh cacophony of calls and cries that must be heard to be believed.


4 & 5. Great Egret and Snowy Egret

 

Great Egret

We include the Great Egret (scientific name Ardea alba) and Snowy Egret (scientific name Egretta thula) together because of their striking similarities and the fact that they are often mistaken for each other.

Snowy Egret

Both the Great and the Snowy have beautiful snowy white plumage – so spectacular, in fact, that they were hunted almost to extinction in the 1800s – though the Great Egret has a green tint around its eyes, while the Snowy has more of a orange-yellow coloration in the same area. They also have large bodies – though the Great Egret, as the name may suggest, is larger (up to three and a half feet in length, as opposed to the Snowy Egret’s still respectable two feet).

And they both have those beautiful long legs, which help them wade through shallow waters and stir up mud to reveal prey – fish, crustaceans, water insects, frogs and other water dwellers. They both love warm climates, as do most of the birds on our list, and can be seen all year long along the southern coasts of the United States – California, the gulf states, Florida and the Carollinas – as well as coastal Mexico. The Snowy Egret will venture farther north, and can be seen migrating and breeding in some central states.


6. American Bittern

American Bittern

A medium sized wading bird, usually a little over two feet long, the American Bittern (scientific name Botaurus lentiginosus) has remarkable brown, tan and white striping which even extends up to its sharply pointed beak.

Even though they can be found in virtually every one of the forty eight contiguous United States and most of southern Canada during migration and breeding, the American Bittern can still be pretty tough to spot – its streaking tends to blend into the reeds it likes to frequent, and it will stand stock still for long periods of time waiting for prey – all kinds of fish, eels, shellfish, snakes, frogs, water insects and a lot more.

But when it calls, the American Bittern gives itself away – a huge sound that seems impossible coming from such an unremarkably sized bird, which the males use for defining their territory. One male may mate with multiple females, who make their low nests in marsh growth above the water or sometimes on dry ground.


7. Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

The Great Blue Heron (scientific name Ardea herodias) is not called “Great” for nothing – up to four and a half feet tall, and with a wingspan that can exceed six feet, this is a big and imposing wading bird. It is also exceptionally beautiful, with a grayish blue coloration quite unlike any other bird.

The Great Blue Heron moves very slowly through the water, often belly deep, or will stand for long periods completely still waiting for food to appear – typically fish, but also frogs, salamanders, snakes, insects and even rodents – and when it strikes it goes from excruciatingly slow or totally still to moving so fast you can easily miss it.

The Great Blue can be seen all throughout the United States and southern Canada, breeding in the north central and northeastern states and spending all year in much of the south and west – and even as far north as coastal Canada and southern Alaska. 


8. Wood Stork

Wood Stork

A big wading bird that can easily be over four feet tall, and with a wingspan that often exceeds five feet, the Wood Stork (scientific name Mycteria americana) has been called a beautiful bird with an ugly head. And indeed, with its dazzling white plumage and gray-black under-feathers on its wings, it is a lovely bird, although the head – which kind of resembles grainy wood – is maybe not so much ugly as unique and striking, and the long, curved beak is even more so.

Though the babies can be quite noisy, especially when calling for food, adult Wood Storks are normally silent, and this impression is furthered by the way they tend to soar and fly with slow wing beats very high in the air on warm days. They are found all throughout Florida all year, and have been seen more and more in South Carolina, but their numbers have been decreasing in recent years.

Wood Storks feed with their open bills in the water, moving slowly and then snapping their beaks shut as soon as they sense prey. They eat a wide variety of fish and shellfish, as well as amphibians, reptiles, rodents and insects – they’ve even been known to enjoy an occasional baby alligator or small turtle. They may not nest every year, and when they do Wood Storks tend to build very high nests on branches – from ten to eighty feet or higher depending on the types of trees present.


9. Whooping Crane

Whooping Crane

Sadly, although the Whooping Crane (scientific name Grus americana) was common in the 19th century, especially in the central states,  this magnificent bird is now one of the rarest in North America, and considered endangered. New initiatives, strict conservation and public education are helping the numbers increase, but there are still only a handful surviving in their natural habitats.

Frequenting bogs, swamps and prairie pools, the Whooping Crane is one of the only birds on our list of birds with long legs that doesn’t necessarily prefer warmer coastal environments. In fact, though they can be found in very small numbers in Texas and Florida, the only other known colonies are in Illinois. They have a fairly wide and varied diet, including snails, shrimp, crabs and clams, insects, berries and seeds, fish and snakes.

Of course the most familiar and well known attribute of the wonderful Whooping Crane is the unmistakable call – they actually have both a loud whooping call, used by males, and a bugling call that couples make during their elaborate courtship ritual, which also includes a kind of dance with repeated leaping, flapping wings and bills pointed skyward – all of it, if you’re ever lucky enough to witness it firsthand, totally unforgettable!


10. Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

A truly elegant bird in appearance and in movement, the Sandhill Crane (scientific name Antigone canadensis) is not as large as it looks – they are usually, in fact, not more than three or so feet tall, but with a wingspan that can easily be twice that, and with their long, slender necks, long, graceful beaks and those thin, spindly legs they seem almost to tower over even themselves.

Although they can be seen migrating all the way from central Mexico up to the Arctic Circle, and all throughout the United States, they tend to only stick around at the two extreme locations – wintering in southern California, Texas, Florida and along the Gulf of Mexico and breeding mostly in northern and even far northern Canada and Alaska.

The migration of the Sandhill Crane is one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on the planet today, when it is possible to see more than a quarter million of them together in the central states – especially along the Platte river in Nebraska. Even in smaller numbers, though, they are fairly easy to spot, especially with their lovely curved wing feathers and distinctive red eye masks.


11. Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

While the Common Sandpiper is, despite its name, actually rare in North America, the little Spotted Sandpiper (scientific name Actitis macularius) is a very common bird, seen all throughout Mexico, the United States and Canada. Though most of the birds on this list are medium to large, there are plenty of small birds with long legs, and the Spotted Sandpiper, with its spotted underside and long, golden brown bill, is a beautiful example.

And also, while most examples on our list of birds with long legs stay in warm coastal areas, the Spotted Sandpiper can be found in wetlands all over, including lakes, ponds and rivers in colder climates – although they do prefer the seashore in the winter. They tend to feed more at the side of water, rather than wading, and like a diet of insects, fish and shellfish.

One fascinating aspect of the Spotted Sandpiper’s life is that the females tend to be dominant in many ways – they are larger, can take several male mates, will aggressively defend the breeding territory and leave the male birds to incubate the eggs and care for the young. Both females and males build the nests, which tend to be on the ground under shrubs, among weeds or otherwise hidden and protected.


12. White Faced Ibis

White Faced Ibis

A smaller wading bird, usually less than two feet long, the White Faced Ibis (scientific name Plegadis chihi) is quite beautiful, with its iridescent green, golden brown and purple feathers and a face that is actually more purple-red, but with a striking bright white frame, as well as a long and lovely curving gray beak.

Though far more common in Mexico and South America, the White Faced Ibis can be seen migrating throughout the southwestern United States, and will breed and nest in mountainous wetlands in the Rockies and in western California and Oregon, as well as parts of Utah, Idaho, Montana and elsewhere. Both sexes build the nests, which are usually low in trees or on the ground in dense vegetation, and often incorporate bits stolen from other birds’ nests and found items – including discarded plastic man-made objects.

While wading in shallow water, the White Faced Ibis uses its distinctive long, curved beak to dig into wet sand and mud to find insects, crayfish and earthworms. They prefer fresh water, but will sometimes forage in and nest near salt water marshes.


13. Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret

Unlike almost any other bird in this guide to long legged birds, the Cattle Egret (scientific name Bubulcus ibis) spends more time in fields than in wetlands, foraging at the hooves of waking cattle and catching the insects they stir up, or riding on their backs and eating ticks. 

With a short and thick neck, a relatively short bill and a relatively stocky body, the Cattle Egret doesn’t look much like other birds on our list, although it is as beautiful as any of them – clean and unbroken white plumage with hints of pinkish-orange, with legs a similar pinkish tint and a lovely pinkish-orange crown when they’re breeding.

The Cattle Egret is a medium-large bird, with a wingspan of almost three feet and a body around one and a half to two feet long. It is originally from Africa, and can be found all throughout the world, but only came to the United States in the 1950s, at which point it quickly established itself and spread rapidly. They can now be seen in spring and summer throughout the southern half of the US, and year-round in Mexico.


14. Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

If this is a list of long legged birds you can see in North America, and especially in the US and Canada, the Roseate Spoonbill (scientific name Platalea ajaja) barely qualifies – it can be seen all year long in extreme southern Florida and coastal Texas, but is most common in South America. Still, I had to include it in this article, if simply because it is one of the most beautiful and unique looking birds on the planet.

The bright but almost muted pink feathers of the Roseate Spoonbill’s wings are accented by long patches of a darker pink along the top, and seen from below, with their wings spread and the sun behind them, they are truly spectacular. Actually, to be fair, they are always spectacular, seen from any angle or in any position, and the unique bill, flattened at the end for foraging, only adds to their amazing effect.

The Roseate Spoonbill likes coastal marshes, mangrove keys, lagoons and mudflats, and will drag its long bill along the muddy bottom to find food – mainly fish, but also some insects and even plants. Although courtship usually gets off to a pretty rough start, with aggressive behavior between the male and female, all ends well, with a lovely and touching ritual of perching together, presenting sticks to each other and finally crossing and clasping each other’s bills.


15. Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule

The last bird on our list of birds with long legs is another stunner, the Purple Gallinule (scientific name Porphyrio martinicus). With its incredible colors – purple, green, blue and golden brown contrasting with strikingly bright white tail feathers – and its equally colorful beak – bright red with a yellow tip – this is a remarkable looking bird. Equally impressive are its long, bright yellow legs, especially with splayed talons that look as long as the legs themselves.

But it’s not just the colors that make the Purple Gallinule so conspicuous. It is a very noisy bird, and can often be seen running along shorelines, crashing through wetland vegetation or flying with its legs hanging down in an almost comically clumsy manner.

The Purple Gallinule will eat almost anything, including plant leaves, seeds and fruit, aquatic insects, frogs, worms, spiders, fish and even eggs and newly hatched birds of other species. Both sexes pitch in to gather materials and build the nests, which tend to be low – generally no more than three feet high, but more often at water level – and made from and protected by wetland vegetation.


In Conclusion

We have only just scratched the surface in showing and describing fifteen fairly common but really fascinating birds with long legs. There are, in fact, so many others – in North America and around the world – and each is in its way is so beautiful, so unique and so special.

They all deserve more attention, and further study proves to be both delightful and fascinating!

And while there are a ton of internet resources you can use to do just that, there is something so special about an actual physical book – especially in the quality and beauty of the photographs it contains and the kind of impact they can have compared to just another image on a screen.

So in closing I would like to offer a simple list of a small handful of books you can get – some classics, some brand new, but each of them a masterful, loving, informative and truly beautiful look at birds with long legs:

Books about long-legged birds

Long-Legged Wading Birds
The Ultimate Heron Photo Book: Looking through the eyes of these long-legged freshwater and coastal...
Flamingo Picture Book: 100 Beautiful Images of These Long Legged Pink Birds - Perfect Gift or Coffee...
Wading Birds Of North America (North of Mexico)
LaZer Focused Field Guide to the Wading Birds of North America (LaZer Focused Field Guides)
Wading Birds of the World
Long-Legged Wading Birds
The Ultimate Heron Photo Book: Looking through the eyes of these long-legged freshwater and coastal...
Flamingo Picture Book: 100 Beautiful Images of These Long Legged Pink Birds - Perfect Gift or Coffee...
Wading Birds Of North America (North of Mexico)
LaZer Focused Field Guide to the Wading Birds of North America (LaZer Focused Field Guides)
Wading Birds of the World
Long-Legged Wading Birds
Long-Legged Wading Birds
The Ultimate Heron Photo Book: Looking through the eyes of these long-legged freshwater and coastal...
The Ultimate Heron Photo Book: Looking through the eyes of these long-legged freshwater and coastal...
Flamingo Picture Book: 100 Beautiful Images of These Long Legged Pink Birds - Perfect Gift or Coffee...
Flamingo Picture Book: 100 Beautiful Images of These Long Legged Pink Birds - Perfect Gift or Coffee...
Wading Birds Of North America (North of Mexico)
Wading Birds Of North America (North of Mexico)
LaZer Focused Field Guide to the Wading Birds of North America (LaZer Focused Field Guides)
LaZer Focused Field Guide to the Wading Birds of North America (LaZer Focused Field Guides)
Wading Birds of the World
Wading Birds of the World

Long-Legged Wading Birds

by Lucian Niemeyer and Mark Riegner 

Long-Legged Wading Birds
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Hardcover Book
  • Niemeyer, Lucian (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 2 Pages - 03/01/1993 (Publication Date) - Stackpole Books (Publisher)


The Ultimate Heron Photo Book

by Gabrielle Enriquez

The Ultimate Heron Photo Book: Looking through the eyes of these long-legged freshwater and coastal...
  • Enriquez, Gabrielle (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 42 Pages - 01/20/2020 (Publication Date) - Independently published (Publisher)


Flamingo Picture Book: 100 Beautiful Images of These Long Legged Pink Birds

by Kampelstone

Flamingo Picture Book: 100 Beautiful Images of These Long Legged Pink Birds - Perfect Gift or Coffee...
  • Kampelstone (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 99 Pages - 10/30/2020 (Publication Date) - Independently published (Publisher)


Wading Birds Of North America

by Allan Eckert

Wading Birds Of North America (North of Mexico)
  • Hardcover Book
  • Eckert, Allan (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 252 Pages - 10/26/1987 (Publication Date) - Gramercy (Publisher)


LaZer Focused Field Guide to the Wading Birds of North America

by Kevin Cochran, Mel Cooksey & Dave Allen

Sale
LaZer Focused Field Guide to the Wading Birds of North America (LaZer Focused Field Guides)
  • Cochran, Kevin (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 150 Pages - 12/10/2019 (Publication Date) - Independently published (Publisher)


Wading Birds of the World Hardcover

by Eric Soothill

Wading Birds of the World
  • Hardcover Book
  • Soothill, Eric (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 334 Pages - 01/01/1982 (Publication Date) - Blandford Press (Publisher)


Seashore and Wading Birds of Florida

by Patricia Pope

Seashore and Wading Birds of Florida
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Pope, Patricia E. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 44 Pages - 06/01/1974 (Publication Date) - Great Outdoors Publishing Company (Publisher)

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