Heron, egret, crane, stork: Tall water birds conjure up many associations. The graceful crane, for example, is a Japanese motif and the most popular figure in origami. The heron or egret is known for its otherworldly patience and perseverance—standing like a statue and then, lightning-fast, thrusting its beak into a fish beneath the water’s surface. The stork is associated with devotion and childbirth.
We’re forgiven if we can’t always tell the birds apart. Apparently the taxonomy is confusing and each category (or family) has many varied species. With its long neck and legs and a pointed bill, a heron is any of various wading birds of the family Ardeidae. Herons are solitary, symbolic of independence and tranquility. The word egret is most often applied to heron species with white or decorative plumes.
Cranes belong to the family Gruidae, with only two species native to North America: the whooping crane and the sandhill crane. Cranes are social creatures.
And storks are large, long-necked wading birds who nest in dry places, part of the animal family Ciconiidae. As seen in art as in nature, a heron flies with its neck retracted; cranes and storks extend their necks when flying.