Birds with very long legs tend to end up in two categories. Birds that use their long legs to wade through water to catch aquatic prey, and grassland birds that use their long legs to run after prey. Long legged birds can be stocky or elegant, and are almost always impressive in height and size. Let’s look at a list of 13 birds with long legs.
13 Birds with long legs
1. Wood Stork
- Scientific Name: Mycteria americana
- Size: 40-44 inches
The wood stork is a large wading bird found predominantly in South America, but may winter along the Gulf Coast and has year-round populations in Florida. It typically inhabits shallow-water habitats with muddy bottoms, such as tidal flats, marshes, swamps, and mangroves. These storks are known for their extremely long gray legs, which allow them to walk on soft mud or sand without sinking.
This also allows them to find food in the water without getting the bulk of their body wet. They eat small fish, frogs, and other aquatic invertebrates that they find in the water. They have bright white feathers with black on their wings, which stand in contract to their featherless head. Their scaly gray head gives them a bit of a vulture-like appearance.
2. Southern Cassowary
- Scientific Name: Casuarius casuarius
- Size: 5.8 feet
Cassowaries are large, flightless birds native to New Guinea and northern Australia. The two main large species are the southern and northern cassowary, which are quite similar and broken up by location. These cassowaries are enormous in size, reaching up to 5.8 feet in length with a 6.5 foot wingspan. They can’t fly, but cassowaries have long, powerful legs that they use for movement and defense.
These large birds are commonly found in eucalyptus forests, savannas, and swamps. They are considered shy, but can defend themselves when necessary. Between their powerful legs and toe claws, a kick from them can prove quite injurious! These creatures can also swim, jump, and run at speeds of up to 50 kilometers per hour.
- Scientific Name: Jabiru mycteria
- Size: 4.5 feet
A Jabiru, also known as a black-necked stork, is a large stork found from Mexico to Argentina that lives near rivers and ponds. They’re the tallest flying bird in Central and South America, reaching up to 4.5 feet in height with a wingspan of 7-9 feet. Jabiru’s have white bodies, long skinny black legs, a black beak, head and neck, with a single red patch at the base of the neck.
As wading birds, these animals benefit from having extremely long legs because they can walk through mud while looking for prey. These birds use their long bills to detect and quickly catch their prey before swallowing it. Jabirus eat fish, frogs, snakes, insects, and mollusks, but these species will also eat dead animals during the dry season.
4. Gray heron
- Scientific Name: Ardea cinerea
- Size: 33-40 inches
Gray herons are medium-sized birds found throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa. They are smaller than, but bear a strong resemblance to their North American relatives the Great Blue Heron. They have long bodies, necks, and brown legs that help them search for food. As a coping mechanism to control heat loss, they can also stand for extended periods of time on one leg.
These herons can be found in many aquatic environments with shallow waters, such as streams, rivers, marshes, lakes, or estuaries, but they prefer to roost in tree branches or dense brush. They use their long pointed beak to catch frogs, fish, amphibians and crustaceans in shallow water.
5. Great Egret
- Scientific Name: Ardea alba
- Size: 3 feet
The Great Egret is another magnificent bird with long legs found in North America. These elegant egrets are white overall, with a yellow bill and dark legs. During the breeding season they grow long wispy white plumes from their back that they can hold up and display during courtship. Their largest threat used to be humans, who hunted nearly 95% of them for those white plumes until plume hunting was banned in 1910. Now, habitat loss and degradation is their greatest threat.
Great Egrets prefer to live near streams, marshes, and ponds where they can catch fish, insects, or frogs. They hunt by wading slowly or standing still, waiting for their prey to get close enough to jab them with their sharp bills.
- Scientific Name: Struthio camelus
- Size: 7-9 feet
The ostrich is the world’s largest bird, with a wingspan of up to 6.6 feet and a height of up to 9 feet. These large flightless birds are found in Africa, where they live in dry and sandy areas. Ostrich legs aren’t only long, but also very powerful.
These large animals can run at speeds of up to 70 km/h and kick with a force of approximately 2,000 pounds per square inch. These characteristics make them one of the birds you shouldn’t mess with because these species can use their long and powerful legs to protect themselves from anyone they perceive as a threat.
7. Snowy Egret
- Scientific Name: Egretta thula
- Size: 1.6-2.25 feet
The snowy egret is a common long-legged bird found in North, Central, and South America. These birds have a wingspan of 3.4 feet and a height of 1.6-2.25 feet. They nest in colonies, and often among other herons. Like the great egret, they grow beautiful plumes during the breeding season that humans unfortunately hunted them for to use in fashion. Thankfully they are a conservation success and are common birds once more.
The species is named after its overall white plumage with contrasting black on its legs and yellow feet. Snowy egrets have been observed feeding on worms, insects, and amphibians in shallow water inlets, where they’re most active at dawn and dusk.
8. American Flamingo
- Scientific Name: Phoenicopterus ruber
- Size: 5 feet
The American Flamingo is a large wading bird found in the Caribbean and along the South American coasts. They live in large colonies that can contain up to 24,000 individuals. One of the most noticeable characteristics of a flamingo is its long pink legs with webbed feet, which they use to walk and stir mud, causing small animals, particularly those that are part of their diet, to resurface.
They live in shallow brackish or saltwater and forage for small fish, worms, mollusks, and crustaceans. These birds acquire their pink coloration from eating small crustaceans, which contain carotenoid pigments.
9. Cattle Egret
- Scientific Name: Bubulcus ibis
- Size: 19-21 inches
Although native to Spain and Africa, cattle egrets have expanded their range rapidly and can now be found across much of North and Central America, and South America’s west coast. They’re the most terrestrial herons, able to live outside water sources but still utilize them when available. These birds have long legs but are much smaller than other egrets.
Cattle egrets can also be identified by their posture, which is typically hunched even when standing. Their name is due to their common occurrence alongside large animals like cows, buffalo, horses or elephants. As the large animals graze, they walk through grass kicking up insects and frogs that the egrets wait for and snatch.
10. Whooping Crane
- Scientific Name: Grus americana
- Size: 5 feet
The whooping crane is the tallest bird in North America, coming in around 5 foot tall with a 7 foot wingspan. Once widespread in the wetlands of Canada and the United States, they are now a federally endangered species. With intense conservation efforts, the 20 birds remaining in 1941 have grown today to about 800. The only two self-sustaining populations today migrate between Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park and Texas’s Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
These tall birds are almost completely white, with dark legs and a splash of maroon red on the face. Their courtship dance is truly a sight to behold, where these large birds leap, sweep their wings and kick.
- Scientific Name: Dromaius novaehollandiae
- Size: 5.7 feet
After the ostrich, the emu takes the spot as the second largest living bird reaching up to 6.2 feet tall. Their massive body is covered in brown, shaggy feathers, but their wings are too small to support flight. They’re native to Australia and can be found in various habitats, including grasslands and savannahs.
With the emu’s long legs and specialized pelvic muscles, they can run up to 30 mph and have powerful kicks to defend themselves against predators. Emus are solitary creatures, but these birds are also very curious, pecking at things and animals to learn more. They eat a variety of plant materials and insects depending on what is seasonally available.
12. Black-Necked Stilt
- Scientific Name: Himantopus mexicanus
- Size: 1-1.5 feet
Black-Necked Stilts are birds that live in ponds, marshes, and mudflats where there are plenty of aquatic invertebrates, snails, small fish and fly larvae to eat. They have a thin black and white body balanced atop long, delicate pink legs. These stilts are about 1.5 feet long, with legs that are 8-10 inches long. They forage by wading through the muddy waters in search of food.
Sometimes if a group of these stilts comes upon a predator, they will engage in a “popcorn display”. It is name this because a group of stilts will jump and hop up and down while flapping in an attempt to scare the predator away, resembling hot popcorn kernels popping.
13. Secretary Bird
- Scientific Name: Sagittarius serpentarius
- Size: 3.2-4 feet
The secretary bird is a tall, slender bird with extremely long legs and a distinct crest on its head. The upper part of its legs are black, giving the impression that the bird is wearing shorts. Their legs are also very strong and well-adapted to catching fast and powerful snakes.
Secretary birds live in open savannahs, grasslands, and plains in Africa. They stomp through tall grass, flushing out prey such as rodents, lizards, snakes, birds and large insects. Insects they may pickup with their beak, but most other prey they catch with their feet.
Louise is a writer that focuses mostly on wildlife, animals, and nature. She’s developed a growing interest in animal biology and classification.