Wading birds are a group of birds that wade in shallow water to get food. They include egrets, herons, cranes, storks, ibises, and spoonbills. If you had to describe wading birds with one word, a good choice would be long. Most of these birds’ bills, necks, legs, and even their toes are long. The more you think about where these birds get their food, the more you understand why long makes sense for them.
When you’re a bird that wades into water to find food, having long legs really comes in handy because you can walk around without getting your feathers wet. Having a long neck and long bill means you can reach down over those long legs and grab your prey. And why is it good to have long toes if you’re a wading bird? Because those toes help you keep your balance and also help you walk in mud without sinking.
No matter where you live in the United States, you have a chance of seeing one of these big birds. The Great Blue Heron, for example, lives in every state except Hawaii. All wading birds need to live near water. That includes oceans and bays, marshes, rivers, lakes, and ponds. Some, like herons and egrets, can live in both fresh- and saltwater habitats. Their diet includes fish, frogs, worms, lizards, insects, and some even eat small mammals and other birds. Most grab their prey with a lightning-fast strike and swallow it whole.
An unusual wading bird that lives along the southern coasts of the United States is the Roseate Spoonbill. First of all, its entire body is pink, including its legs, and its eyes are reddish. Second of all, its long bill is shaped like a spoon, which—of course—is where the name comes from.
Wading birds need clean water and safe places to nest and raise their young. And since people also like to be near water, it’s important to know how to share habitat without putting wading birds (and all wildlife) at risk. That means staying away from nesting areas and keeping the land, water, and air clean to protect the health of the birds and their food supply.
Are you ready to enter the Watery World of Wading Birds? Start your adventure by reading the Audubon Adventures magazine you see in the column on the right. You’ll probably be amazed to discover some of the skills and “tricks” some waders use to capture their prey. You’ll meet a “habitat hero” who just might be wading birds’ best human friend. You’ll also have the chance to compare your height with the heights of some of the tallest long-legged wading birds. Once you’ve read the magazine, be sure to have fun with other parts of this website. Most of all, have fun exploring the Wonderful World of Wading Birds!
Photos: John Studwell/Audubon Photography Awards; Brian Kushner; Trude Hurd.