Grey heron Ardea cinerea, flying above trees, Co. Durham

Herons, storks and ibises

Herons have long legs with particularly long toes, useful when wading on soft mud. Their wings are broad and rounded, often markedly bowed in flight, and they all have long sinuous necks and dagger-shaped bills. Many species nest in trees in mixed colonies, while bitterns are much more secretive and nest in dense reeds. 

Spoonbills are characterised by their flattened bills with spatulate tips which are swept from side to side, partly open, through shallow water to detect food. The glossy ibis is an increasingly frequent stray from southern Europe. Ibises are somewhat heron-like but have shorter necks, rounder (often bare) heads and more slender, curved bills. The sacred ibis, common in Africa, is the emblem of the British Ornithologists’ Union.