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 Virginia to help you narrow down the options and find out more about birds near you.
White Birds In Virginia By Season
White Birds in Virginia all year: Great Blue Heron, Rock Pigeon, Great Egret, Mute Swan, Trumpeter Swan, American White Pelican
White Birds in Virginia in summer: Snowy Egret, White Ibis, Common Tern, Cattle Egret
White Birds in Virginia in winter: Ring-billed Gull, Tundra Swan, Northern Gannet, Snow Goose, Ross’s Goose, Snow Bunting
White Birds during migration in Virginia: Little Blue Heron, Swallow-tailed Kite
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 Virginia.
18 White Birds In Virginia
1. Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Herons are very common in Virginia and are spotted in the state all year. They are recorded in 18% of summer checklists and 16% of winter checklists submitted by bird watchers for the state.
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. Ring-billed Gull
Ring-billed Gulls spend winter in Virginia but some are spotted along the coast all year. They appear in 2% of summer checklists and 21% of winter checklists.
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.
3. Rock Pigeon
Rock Pigeons are an introduced species in Virginia and they are residents of the state all year. They occur in up to 6% of summer checklists and 8% 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.
4. Great Egret
Great Egrets are spotted in Virginia all year but their numbers increase from July to October. They are recorded in 8% of summer checklists, 2% of winter checklists, and up to 18% of checklists during fall migration.
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.
5. Snowy Egret
Snowy Egrets spend the breeding season in Virginia, mainly along the coast, from April to November. They appear in 2% of summer checklists.
Snowy Egrets, as their name suggests, are small, all-white herons. They have yellow irises and skin around their eye, long, black bills, long, black legs, and bright yellow feet.
During the breeding season, long, lacy feathers appear on their heads, necks, and backs. Their lores or facial skin turn reddish-pink, and their toes turn orange-red during courtship.
Interestingly, these areas of their bodies also become bright red during aggressive encounters.
Juveniles are similar to adults but without head plumes. The colors on their bills and legs are also lighter, with lores and legs more greenish-yellow.
- Egretta thula
- Length: 22 – 27 in (56 -69 cm)
- Weight: 16.75 oz (475 g)
- Wingspan: 39.4 in (100 cm)
Snowy Egrets migrate from most US states, except along the Gulf Coast and southwest coast. They remain all year in Mexico, Central, and South America.
You can find Snowy Egrets in shallow, wetland habitats such as marshes, riverbanks, lakesides, pools, salt marshes, and estuaries. For nesting, they prefer swamp forests with protective trees and bushes.
Snowy Egret Call:
Fun Fact: Snowy Egrets were almost hunted down to extinction because of their beautiful white head feathers that were the perfect decoration or accessory to women’s hats.
6. Tundra Swan
Tundra Swans are mainly spotted in Virginia from November to March. They occur in 3% of winter checklists.
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.
7. Little Blue Heron – Juvenile
Little Blue Herons are usually spotted in Virginia during migration from April to May and July to November. They appear in up to 3% of checklists during these times.
Adult Little Blue Herons are actually not so little. They’re medium to large-sized with long, elongated bodies. Their heads and necks have a purplish hue with dangling feathers across the nape.
Their eyes are pale yellow and may turn gray-green during the breeding season. Their long, dagger-like bills are two-toned – pale blue or grayish with black tips. Their bodies are slate-blue. Their legs are long and black to gray-green.
Juvenile Little Blue Herons are totally white during their first year of life before becoming a mix of dark gray, blue, and white.
- Egretta caerulea
- Length: 24 – 29 in (61 – 74 cm)
- Weight: 16.22 oz (460 g)
- Wingspan: 40 – 41 in (102 – 104 cm)
Little Blue Herons breed in eastern US States before migrating south, but those along the Gulf Coast and Mexico into south America remain all year.
You can find Little Blue Herons around water, whether in swamps, marshes, ponds, streams, lagoons, tidal flats, canals, ditches, fish hatcheries, or flooded fields.
Little Blue Heron Calls:
Fun Fact: Because of the white coloring of Juvenile Little Blue Herons, their presence among Snowy Egrets so they can catch more fish and have extra protection against predators.
8. Northern Gannet
Northern Gannets spend winter along the coast of Virginia and are most common from November to April. They are recorded in 2% of checklists at this time.
Northern Gannets are the largest among the gannet family and the largest seabird in the Western Palearctic. Males and females are similar in size and appearance.
They are generally white with a yellow-orange buff tinge on their heads, which may be darker during the breeding season. Their eyes and bills appear to be outlined in black.
Their wings are long and slender and have a dark-brown or black edge. Their bills and feet are gray. Their tails are all-white.
Juveniles look nothing like the adults. They are brown overall with white spots. They also have no outline marking their eyes and bills. They have a white patch on their tails. Immatures appear as a combination of both the juvenile and adult.
- Morus bassanus
- Length: 35 – 40 in (89 – 102 cm)
- Weight: 104 oz (2947 g)
- Wingspan: 65 – 71 in (165 – 180 g)
Northern Gannets breed around coastal eastern Canada and spend the winter along the Atlantic coast of the United States. They are also found in western Europe and North Africa.
You can find Northern Gannets on the open ocean and large bays. Their nesting and breeding colonies are often on cliffs and rocky ledges of the Canadian Atlantic Coast. Bonaventure Island in Quebec is the largest colony in North America with 60,000 nests as of 2009.
Northern Gannet Calls:
Fun Fact: It takes Northern Gannets five years to fully grow into their adult physical appearance.
9. White Ibis
White Ibises are usually spotted along the coast of Virginia during the breeding season but you might also spot a few hanging around all year.
American White Ibises are medium to large-sized birds that have all-white bodies. Their distinct, bright pink facial skin, large downward-curved bill, and long legs easily identify them.
These same physical characteristics turn scarlet red during the breeding season. Their eyes are blue. They also have black tips on their wings but these can only be seen in flight.
Male and female American White Ibises look similar but juveniles are brown on their heads, wings, and back, have a pale brown streak on their necks, and they are white underneath.
- Eudocimus albus
- Length: 21 – 27 in (53 – 69 cm)
- Weight: 36.8 oz (1043 g)
- Wingspan: 21 – 27 in (53 – 69 cm)
American White Ibis are resident all year around the Gulf Coast and southern Atlantic coast but may move inland slightly during the breeding season.
You can find American White Ibises in wetland environments. They prefer freshwater marshes, coastal estuaries, mangroves, flooded pastures, mudflats, and swamps. While they wade in shallow water, they are often seen on lawns and parks.
American White Ibis Call:
Fun Fact: When American White Ibis’s prey is muddy, they will wash the mud off first before eating it.
10. Common Tern
Common Terns breed along the coast of Virginia and occur in 1% of summer checklists. They are spotted here from April to November.
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. Mute Swan
Mute Swans are non-native species in Virginia that can be spotted in the state all year.
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.
12. Snow Goose
Snow Geese are mainly spotted in Virginia from November to March and are recorded in 1% of winter checklists. However, some can also be spotted in the state 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.
13. Cattle Egret
Cattle Egrets are not very common in Virginia but they can be spotted around Virginia Beach, from April to mid-October.
Cattle Egrets have a smart way of catching their food…they stand on the backs of cattle, so when the cattle move and disturb the ground, they catch the disturbed prey.
Cattle Egrets are small, short-necked egrets with white bodies and pale orange-brown patches on their heads, necks, and backs.
- Bubulcus ibis
- Length: 19 – 21 in (48 – 53 cm)
- Weight: 17.98 oz (510 g)
- Wingspan: 36 – 38 in (91 – 97 cm)
Cattle Egrets have a vast range around the world, but within North America, those in the south in Mexico, the Gulf Coast, and southwestern US states remain all year.
However, those that breed further north, mainly in eastern US states, migrate south after breeding.
You can find Cattle Egrets in native grasslands, pastures, crop fields, and rice fields, especially where there is hoofed livestock.
Cattle Egret Calls:
Fun Fact: The Cattle Egret’s eyes have adapted to foraging on land by having binocular vision for judging distance to catch prey on land rather than correcting for light refraction when feeding in the water.
14. Trumpeter Swan
Trumpeter Swans are not very common in Virginia, but there have been sightings in the north of the state all year.
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.
15. American White Pelican
American White Pelicans are not very common in Virginia, but they can be spotted here all year, mainly along the coast.
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.
16. Ross’s Goose
Ross’s Geese are not very common in Virginia, but they are recognized as regularly occurring during winter. They are spotted from October to mid-April.
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. Snow Bunting
Snow Buntings spend winter in Virginia, from mid-October to March, but they are not often spotted here.
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.
18. Swallow-tailed Kite
Swallow-tailed Kites are spotted in Virginia during migration but they are not very common here.
Swallow-tailed Kites are large but slender birds of prey that are most often seen hovering in the skies with their distinctive forked tail.
Males and females look similar. They have white heads and underparts and black bills, flight feathers, tails, and feet. Their underwings are both black and white. Their long, forked tails resemble a swallow’s hence the name “swallow-tailed”.
Juveniles are paler in comparison and their tails are not that deeply forked.
- Elanoides forficatus
- Length: 19 – 25 in (48 – 64 cm)
- Weight: 15.6 oz (442 g)
- Wingspan: 45 – 50 in (114 – 127 cm)
Swallow-tailed Kites are predominantly resident in South America but they breed around the Gulf Coast of the United States.
You can find Swallow-tailed Kites in swamps, marshes, and humid, lowland forests. When nesting, look for them in tall trees around open areas with an abundance of small prey to feed their young.
Swallow-tailed Kites almost always spend their time in flight so it’s best to look skyward when looking for them. Also, summer is the best time to see them since they migrate to South America for the winter.
Swallow-tailed Kite Call:
Fun Fact: Swallow-tailed Kites are famous for their aerial acrobatics and they twist, turn, roll and dive whilst flicking their forked tail in pursuit of prey.
How Frequently White Birds Are Spotted In Virginia 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 Virginia.
White Birds in Virginia in summer:
Great Blue Heron 18.0%
Great Egret 8.1%
Rock Pigeon 6.7%
Snowy Egret 2.7%
Ring-billed Gull 2.7%
Little Blue Heron 1.5%
Common Tern 1.4%
White Ibis 1.3%
Cattle Egret 0.6%
Mute Swan 0.4%
Northern Gannet 0.1%
Tundra Swan 0.1%
American White Pelican 0.1%
Trumpeter Swan <0.1%
Swallow-tailed Kite <0.1%
Snow Goose <0.1%
Ross’s Goose <0.1%
White Birds in Virginia in winter:
Ring-billed Gull 21.3%
Great Blue Heron 16.9%
Rock Pigeon 8.1%
Tundra Swan 3.1%
Great Egret 2.7%
Northern Gannet 1.9%
Snow Goose 1.4%
Mute Swan 1.0%
Snowy Egret 0.4%
White Ibis 0.3%
Trumpeter Swan 0.3%
Ross’s Goose 0.2%
Snow Bunting 0.1%
Little Blue Heron 0.1%
American White Pelican 0.1%
Cattle Egret <0.1%
Common Tern <0.1%