From egrets to Snowy Owls there is something mesmerizing about white birds that means you can’t quite take your eyes off of them and want to know more.
But there are so many similar-looking white birds, especially egrets, herons, and ibis. So how do you know which is which?
Well, you have come to the right place as this guide will help you identify white birds by sight and sound and know which times of the year they are in British Columbia to help you narrow down the options and find out more about birds near you.
White Birds In British Columbia By Season
White Birds in British Columbia all year: Great Blue Heron, Rock Pigeon, Mute Swan, Gyrfalcon, Great Egret, White-tailed Ptarmigan, Rock Ptarmigan
White Birds in British Columbia in summer: Ring-billed Gull, American White Pelican, Willow Ptarmigan
White Birds in British Columbia in winter: Trumpeter Swan, Snow Goose, Tundra Swan, Snowy Owl
White Birds during migration in British Columbia: Snow Bunting, Common Tern, Ross’s Goose
This guide will help you identify those white birds out on the water or in the woods or fields and are listed from most to least common according to checklists submitted by bird watchers on ebird for British Columbia.
17 White Birds In British Columbia
1. Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Herons are very common in British Columbia and are spotted mainly in the south during the breeding season and the southwest during winter. They are recorded in 18% of summer and winter checklists submitted by bird watchers for the province.
Great Blue Herons are very large, majestic birds that are the largest heron native to North America. Their pale gray bodies can look white in flight.
They have a white face with a black crest or plume that extends from the front of their eyes to the back of their heads. Their bills are yellow-orangish.
They have long gray necks with black and white streaking in the front, pale grayish-blue bodies with dark wingtips, and long gray legs.
The Great Blue Heron has a white morph subspecies called the Great White Heron in Florida.
- Ardea herodias
- Length: 46 – 52 in (117 – 132 cm)
- Weight: 128 oz (3628 g)
- Wingspan: 77 – 82 in (196 – 208 cm)
Great Blue Herons remain in most US states all year, but those that breed in the Mid-West and Canada migrate south.
You can find Great Blue Herons in many wetland environments. They can be present in fresh and saltwater marshes, mangrove swamps, flooded marshes, lake edges, or shorelines.
Great Blue Heron Call:
Fun Fact: Great Blue Herons defend their feeding territory with dramatic wing outstretched displays, with their heads thrown back.
2. Rock Pigeon
Rock Pigeons are an introduced species in British Columbia and they are residents of the province all year. They appear in 9% of summer checklists and 14% of winter checklists.
Rock Pigeons are well recognized around towns and parks and are usually blueish gray with two black bands on the wing and black on the tail tip. They have iridescent throat feathers and orange eyes.
However, they can also be white, spotted, or red.
- Columba livia
- Length: 11.8-14.2 in (30-36 cm)
- Weight: 9.3-13.4 oz (265-380 g)
- Wingspan: 19.7-26.4 in (50-67 cm)
Rock Pigeons do not migrate and can be found in all US states, southern Canada, and the Pacific Coast to Alaska.
You can find Rock Pigeons in cities, parks, and backyards, especially if there is birdseed on the ground. Some cities have ordinances against feeding pigeons as they are considered pests.
Rock Pigeon Call:
Fun Fact: Rock Pigeons have an amazing ability to find their way home using the earth’s magnetic field.
3. Ring-billed Gull
Ring-billed Gulls are most common in British Columbia during the breeding season, from July to November, but some hang around all year in the south of the province.
Ring-billed Gulls are medium-sized gulls that are easily identified because of their short, yellow bills with a black ring around them near the tip.
Breeding adults are generally white all-over except for their pale gray backs and wings with black tips and white spots. Their eyes are yellow, outlined with orange. They have yellow legs and feet. Males and females are similar.
The major differences between breeding and non-breeding adults are the light brown streaks on the heads and necks of non-breeding adults.
Juvenile Ring-billed Gulls are covered in brown streaks all over.
- Larus delawarensis
- Length: 18 – 19 in (46 – 48 cm)
- Weight: 20.81 oz (590 g)
- Wingspan: 47 – 48 in (119 – 122 cm)
Ring-billed Gulls breed in Canada and northern and northwestern US states. They migrate for winter to southern US states, the Pacific Coast, and Mexico.
You can find Ring-billed Gulls in urban, suburban, and agricultural areas. They also inhabit coastal waters, beaches, lakes, ponds, streams, estuaries, and mudflats. They are frequent visitors to parking lots, landfills, shopping malls, and reservoirs where they tend to group in large numbers.
Ring-billed Gulls calls:
Fun Fact: Ring-billed Gulls are sometimes called “fast food gulls” because they often hang out near fast food restaurants and scavenge for food there.
4. Trumpeter Swan
Trumpeter Swans are mainly spotted in British Columbia in winter from October to April, but some can also be spotted here all year. They are recorded in 8% of winter checklists.
The Trumpeter Swan has the distinction of being the longest and heaviest living bird native to North America. It is also recognized as the heaviest flying bird in the world.
Trumpeter Swans are entirely white except for their black bills, legs, and feet. There is a black patch on their face, seemingly connecting their eyes to their bills. Their heads and neck may occasionally show some rust-brown coloring because of their contact with iron elements in wetland soils.
Juvenile Trumpeter Swans are mostly dusky-gray, with a pink center on their black bills.
- Cygnus buccinator
- Length: 58 – 72 in (147 – 183 cm)
- Weight: 401.6 oz (11381 g)
- Wingspan: 72 – 102 in (183 – 259 cm)
Trumpeter swans breed in Alaska and western and southern Canada before migrating to ice-free coastal regions. Those in northwestern and northern US states often stay all year but may move around depending on the weather.
You can find Trumpeter Swans in marshes, lakes, and rivers with dense vegetation. They breed in open areas near shallow waters. They are sometimes seen on agricultural fields, too.
Trumpeter Swans Call:
Fun Fact: Trumpeter Swans generally mate for life. When nesting, there is always one adult that stays with the nest. They are both territorial and aggressive when it comes to protecting their nesting area.
5. Snow Goose
Snow Geese are mainly spotted in British Columbia from October to March and appear in 2% of winter checklists. However, some can also be spotted in the province all year.
The Snow Goose is aptly named because this goose is totally white except for its black wingtips, pink bill with a black grin patch, and pink legs and feet.
Interestingly, it has another variant, called the Blue Goose, which has a white head but a dark blue-gray body. Both variants of the Snow Geese may occasionally have a “stained” head due to their feeding.
The sexes of both variants are similar though they may vary in size. Males tend to be larger than females.
Juvenile white morphs have a dusky gray-brown coloring, and juvenile blue morphs are dark gray. However, they both still have the recognizable pink bill and black grin patch.
- Anser caerulescens
- Length: 25 – 31 in (64 – 79 cm)
- Weight: 81.13 oz (2299 g)
- Wingspan: 54.3 in (138 cm)
Snow Geese breed mainly in Canada and spend winter in the United States.
You can find Snow Geese and Blue Geese together in freshwater marshes and agricultural grain fields. In winter, they favor salt marshes and coastal bays, but they still visit plowed cornfields or wetlands.
Snow Goose Call:
Fun Fact: Snow Geese choose the same color morph as themselves when breeding and will mate for life.
6. Mute Swan
Mute Swans are non-native species in British Columbia that can be spotted mainly in the south of the province.
Mute Swans are one of the largest and heaviest flying birds. They are non-native and were introduced to grace ornamental lakes and ponds but now have escaped into the wild and bred. They cause problems for native wildlife and can be aggressive.
They are entirely white, with long, graceful necks, orange bills with a large, black basal knob, black around the base of the bill, and black legs. Adults look alike, although males are larger than females.
Juveniles don’t have orange-colored bills. Instead, they have dusky-pinkish bills. They may occasionally have dusky-brownish highlights on their body.
- Cygnus olor
- Length: 56 – 62 in (142 – 157 cm)
- Weight: 416 oz (11789 g)
- Wingspan: 84 – 96 in (213 – 244 cm)
Mute Swans were originally from Europe but have spread to the United States and southern Canada. They are predominantly found in eastern US states but smaller populations are now widespread.
You can find numerous Mute Swans in city parks, protected bays, and lakes. You may also find them in shallow wetlands, rivers, and estuaries.
Mute Swans Call:
Fun Fact: Adult swans are highly protective of their young and will aggressively defend them when they sense danger or threats. They will hiss as a warning and will immediately chase and attack the predator if the warning is ignored.
7. Tundra Swan
Tundra Swans usually spend winter in British Columbia, from October to April, but some are also spotted here all year.
Tundra Swans are identifiable because of the yellow patches at the base of their bills, but sometimes these do not appear. They have entirely white bodies with long necks and black bills, legs, and feet.
Juvenile Whistling Tundra Swans are pale brown with white highlights and a mostly pink bill with a black tip and base.
- Cygnus columbianus
- Length: 487 – 58 in (119 – 147 cm)
- Weight: 370.37 oz (10496 g)
- Wingspan: 72 – 84 in (183 – 213 cm)
Tundra Swans breed predominantly in Alaska and Canada before migrating to the United States for winter.
You can find Tundra Swans, as their name suggests, in Arctic tundra. They mostly form flocks in wetlands, marshy lakes, ponds, estuaries, and bays. They also flock together in agricultural fields.
Tundra Swans Call:
Fun Fact: The Tundra Swan used to be called “Whistling Swan” because of the sound their wings make in flight.
8. American White Pelican
American White Pelicans can be found in British Columbia during the breeding season from March to November and are mostly spotted in the south of the province.
American White Pelicans are large soaring birds that have the second-largest average wingspan of any North American bird.
Non-breeding adult American White Pelicans are white all over, except for black flight feathers that are only visible when in flight or when the wings are spread. Juveniles have light gray feathers with darker brown napes.
Breeding adult American White Pelicans are still white but they grow a yellow plate on their upper bills, like a horn, and around their eyes, bills and legs become brighter orange.
- Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
- Length: 60 – 63 in (152 – 160 cm)
- Weight: 246.4 oz (6983 g)
- Wingspan: 96 – 110 in (244 – 279 cm)
American White Pelicans breed in remote lakes inland in North America before spending the winter on the southern Pacific Coast of the US, the Gulf of Mexico, Mexico, and Central America. They can be spotted during migration in western and central US states.
You can find American White Pelicans in shallow freshwater lakes, wetlands, and edges of lakes and rivers. In the winter, you can find them in coastal bays, inlets, and estuaries where they forage in shallow water and rest on sandbars.
American White Pelican calls: These birds are usually silent or only make a few grunts. However, the young can be noisy in the large colonies begging for food.
Fun Facts: The long and huge bill of the American White Pelican is capable of holding three gallons of water. When it scoops up fish from the sea, it tilts its bill down to drain the water so it can then swallow the fish that’s left inside its throat sac.
9. Snow Bunting
Snow Buntings are usually spotted in British Columbia during migration but they are also spotted here during winter in the southeast of the province.
Snow Buntings are medium-sized, gregarious songbirds that inhabit the high Arctic.
Breeding adult males are all white except for black on their backs and wings. Breeding adult females are streaked brown on the back and pale underneath.
Non-breeding male and female Snow Buntings are quite similar with streaked backs, white undersides, and brown patches on their heads. However, non-breeding female Snow Buntings have a stronger reddish coloring than males.
Juvenile Snow Buntings are mostly gray everywhere with dark wings and lighter gray bellies.
- Plectrophenax nivalis
- Length: 6 – 7 in (15 – 17 cm)
- Weight: 1 – 2 oz (28 – 50 g)
- Wingspan: 12 – 14 in (32 – 38 cm)
Snow Buntings breed in Alaska and northern Canada before migrating to southern Canada and the United States for winter. They are also found in western Europe and eastern Russia.
You can find Snow Buntings in rocky habitats in the Arctic during summer. They will also be around areas rich in vegetation like meadows and those places with lichens. In the winter, they may be hard to find because they blend so well in their surroundings, particularly in barren fields.
Snow Buntings usually forage for weeds and seeds on the ground or collect them from flowering plants. They also occasionally eat insects and small crustaceans when near the coast.
Snow Bunting Calls:
Fun Fact: Unlike other songbirds, Snow Buntings’ feathers do not molt and change color by rubbing the brown tips of the feathers to reveal the white feathers below.
10. Common Tern
Common Terns are mainly spotted in British Columbia during migration in the south of the province.
Common Terns are small to medium-sized seabirds considered one of the most widespread terns in North America.
Breeding Common Terns have distinct black caps and napes, white necks and chests, orange bills with a black tip, soft gray bodies which are lighter underneath, and orange legs. Their wings are dark-tipped and form a dark wedge on the upperside of the wingtips. Their tails are white and deeply forked.
Non-breeding adult Common Terns lose the front portion of their black caps and are left with white foreheads. Their bills and legs turn black.
Juveniles are a pale version of non-breeding adults.
- Sterna hirundo
- Length: 13 – 16 in (33 – 41 cm)
- Weight: 5.15 oz (146 g)
- Wingspan: 30 – 31 in (76 – 79 cm)
You can find Common Terns close to the water (whether freshwater or saltwater) as long as it’s in any open flat habitat like sand or shell beaches, firm dune areas, salt marshes, or islands during their breeding season.
In winter, Common Terns occur anywhere that has access to fish. They may be on natural sand and shell beaches, marine habitats, estuaries, and large inland lakes. They are also known to rest on boats, buoys, and piers.
Common Tern calls:
Fun Facts: In the 19th century, there was a huge decrease in the population of Common Terns due to fashion. Entire stuffed Common Terns were used to make hats in Europe and North America.
11. Snowy Owl
Snowy Owls are vulnerable species in British Columbia but they are spotted in the south of the province during winter, from November to May.
Gyrfalcons are occasionally spotted in British Columbia all year but they are not very common here.
Gyrfalcons are the largest Falcons and are apex predators of the Arctic, where they snatch birds from the sky or dive at great speed to catch unsuspecting prey from the ground.
Their coloring varies greatly but generally has three morphs – white, silver/gray, and dark. Silver/gray is most common in North America
The silver/gray morphs are heavily banded gray and white on their upperparts but some are mostly gray without obvious banding. Their underparts are evenly spotted and white at the throat. Juveniles have solid dark heads and are browner overall.
The White morphs of Gyrfalcons are white with brown/black barring on their upperparts with dark wingtips and a white tail. Some birds have barring on their tails and spots on their breasts. Juveniles are similar but have more barring on their upperparts but have faint streaks on their underparts.
- Falco rusticolus
- Length: 20 – 25 in (51 – 64 cm)
- Weight: 41.6 oz (1179 g)
- Wingspan: 48 – 64 in (122 – 163 cm)
Gyrfalcons are found predominantly in the arctic and sub-arctic around the world. Those that breed in the high arctic of Canada migrate to the rest of Canada and into the United States for winter.
You can find Gyrfalcons in one of the harshest places on earth, the arctic tundra (treeless shrublands and plains). They usually stay on cliffs near shorelines or rivers and with a vast open space where they can easily hunt prey. When they migrate during the winter, they stay in areas with plenty of birds for them to hunt, like coasts, reservoirs, grasslands, farmlands, and river valleys.
Fun Fact: When the chicks aren’t able to finish off their meal, the female Gyrfalcon will keep or store their leftovers behind some vegetation to retrieve later.
13. Great Egret
Great Egrets are occasionally spotted in southern British Columbia but not very often.
Great Egrets are at their best during the breeding season when males have neon green facial skin and long, wispy feathers (aigrettes) extending from their backs to their tails, which they show off during courtship, like how a peacock flares out its tail.
They are large, all-white herons, which is why they’re often called Great White Herons. They are also called common egrets. These large birds are white, with dagger-like, long, bright yellow bills and long, black legs and feet.
Non-breeding males, females, and juveniles look alike.
- Ardea alba
- Length: 37 – 41 in (94 – 104cm)
- Weight: 59.96 oz (1699 g)
- Wingspan: 54 – 55 in (137 – 140 cm)
Great Egrets have a vast range around the world. Those in the southern and coastal US states remain all year, but those more inland and in Canada migrate south.
You can find Great Egrets in freshwater and saltwater marshes and tidal flats, but also fish ponds.
Great Egret Calls:
Fun Fact: The Great Egret was almost hunted to extinction because of their long white feathers (aigrettes) that were mainly used to decorate ladies’ hats.
14. White-tailed Ptarmigan
White-tailed Ptarmigans are not very common in British Columbia but they do not migrate and can be spotted in the province all year.
Adults are totally white except for their dark eyes and black bills. From spring to fall, they undergo several molts. In the summer, Adult male White-tailed Ptarmigans have speckled grayish-brown bodies, white bellies, wings, and tails and sometimes their red eyebrows become visible.
Adult females are barred brown and black on top, and have a yellowish wash underneath, but their tails are white like the males. In the fall, their feathers exhibit a reddish hue to blend in with the fall colors of their environment.
- Lagopus leucura
- Length: 11.8 – 12.2 in (30 – 31 cm)
- Weight: 11.6 – 16.9 oz (330 – 480 g)
You can find White-tailed Ptarmigans exclusively in alpine mountains all year round. They often roost in snowbanks or near the timber line during winter. During summer, they stay close to rocks and tall vegetation where they’re protected from predators.
White-tailed Ptarmigans mostly eat plant buds, stems, seeds, leaves, fruits, and flowers. They also eat insects during the summer. In the winter, they eat pine needles, seeds, alder buds, and twigs.
White-tailed Ptarmigan Calls:
Fun Fact: White-tailed Ptarmigans are so named because their tail feathers remain white all throughout their lives.
15. Willow Ptarmigan
Willow Ptarmigans are not often spotted in British Columbia but they spend the breeding season in the north of the state.
Willow Ptarmigans also called “willow grouse”, are short, plump, and chicken-like birds with feathered legs and feet from the grouse family. Males and females are similar in size but have different seasonal physical appearances.
During the summer and the breeding season, adult male Willow Ptarmigans have brown heads, necks, and upper breasts with a reddish hue. They have bright red eye combs or eyebrows, and their eyes have white eye-rings. Their bills are short, curved, and black. Their wings and underparts are white. Their tails are black.
Adult female Willow Ptarmigans are a combination of brown, black, and white with a mottled pattern. They have barely-visible red eyecombs, and their bills are also short, curved, and black.
When winter comes, adult Willow Ptarmigans are completely white except for their black eyes and bills and the black edges on their tails.
- Lagopus lagopus
- Length: 15 – 17 in (38 – 43 cm)
- Weight: 2.8 oz (589 g)
- Wingspan: 20 – 22.5 in (51 – 57 cm)
Willow Ptarmigans are predominantly found in Canada and northern Europe.
You can find Willow Ptarmigans in damp areas like pine and birch forests and thickets with willow and alder trees during the breeding season. In the fall, they move into drier and stonier habitats as they molt into their winter plumage. In winter, females move into lower altitudes and densely vegetated areas.
Willow Ptarmigan calls:
Fun Facts: In Britain, they’re called Red Grouse as their feathers don’t turn white when it’s winter there.
16. Ross’s Goose
Ross’s Geese are spotted in British Columbia during migration, mainly in the south of the province, but they are not very common here.
Ross’s Geese are pretty similar to Snow Geese, whom they often flock with. They are white all over except for their short, gray-based red-orange bills, short and stubby, pink-red legs and feet, and black wingtips. Both sexes are similar, but the female is slightly smaller.
There is a dark phase variant of Ross’s Goose, but it’s extremely rare. It has a white head, a brownish bill with a red patch, dark gray throats, underparts, and back.
- Anser rossii
- Length: 21 – 26 in (53 – 66 cm)
- Weight: 59.2 oz (1678 g)
- Wingspan: 47 – 54 in (119 – 137 cm)
Ross’s Geese breed in northern Canada and spend the winter in the United States.
You can find Ross’s Geese in salt and freshwater marshes during winter. During the breeding season, they will nest on the arctic tundra.
Ross’s Goose Call:
Fun Fact: Ross’s Geese are the smallest geese in North America.
17. Rock Ptarmigan
Rock Ptarmigans are recognized as regularly occurring in British Columbia and although they are not common here, they are occasionally spotted in the province.
The chunky Rock Ptarmigan is best known for its different camouflage colors during the summer and winter seasons. It is also very similar in appearance to the Willow Ptarmigan.
Breeding male Rock Ptarmigans have grayish or dark brown mottled heads and upperparts during the summer season. They have red eyecombs and short, down-curved black bills. They have white underparts and wings, and white feathered legs and feet.
Breeding female Rock Ptarmigans are similar to males but they are brown, black, and white and smaller.
In winter, non-breeding male Rock Ptarmigans are almost all white except for their striking red eyecombs, distinct black eyeline, bills, and outer tail feathers. Non-breeding females are similar but without the eyeline and comb.
Juveniles look similar to breeding females but instead of having white wings, it’s only the tip that bears any white color.
- Lagopus muta
- Length: 13 – 14 in (33 – 36 cm)
- Weight: 14.9 oz (422 g)
- Wingspan: 23 in (58 cm)
Rock Ptarmigans are found in Canada, Greenland, and western Europe.
You can find Rock Ptarmigans in the dry, rocky tundra, hence their name. Their camouflage for summer is especially effective since it seems that they disappear in the face of the rocky terrain. They are likely to stay in places with some vegetation.
Winter habitats for males are usually alpine-like environments while females prefer more hiding places.
Rock Ptarmigan calls:
Fun Fact: Male Rock Ptarmigans dirty their white feathers after mating to hide from predators as the snow melts and they wait to molt. They also use their feathered feet to dig burrows in the snow, keeping them out of the intense cold.
How Frequently White Birds Are Spotted In British Columbia In Summer And Winter
Checklists are a great resource to find out which birds are commonly spotted in your state. These lists show which white birds are most frequently recorded on checklists on ebird in summer and winter in British Columbia.
White Birds in British Columbia in summer:
Great Blue Heron 18.0%
Rock Pigeon 9.2%
Ring-billed Gull 4.2%
Trumpeter Swan 0.7%
American White Pelican 0.7%
Snow Goose 0.4%
Mute Swan 0.4%
Common Tern 0.2%
Tundra Swan 0.1%
Willow Ptarmigan 0.1%
Great Egret 0.1%
White-tailed Ptarmigan 0.1%
Rock Ptarmigan <0.1%
Ross’s Goose <0.1%
Snow Bunting <0.1%
Snowy Owl <0.1%
White Birds in British Columbia in winter:
Great Blue Heron 17.5%
Rock Pigeon 13.9%
Trumpeter Swan 8.0%
Ring-billed Gull 4.5%
Snow Goose 2.6%
Tundra Swan 0.7%
Mute Swan 0.7%
Snow Bunting 0.3%
Snowy Owl 0.3%
Great Egret <0.1%
White-tailed Ptarmigan <0.1%
Willow Ptarmigan <0.1%
Ross’s Goose <0.1%
Rock Ptarmigan <0.1%