Did you recently see a mystery WHITE bird in Iowa?
If so, I’m guessing you are trying to figure out how to identify the species correctly!
Well, you’re in the right place. Below, you will learn about the different WHITE birds found in Iowa. I’ve included high-quality pictures and range maps to help you!
But before you begin, let me give you one warning:
Trying to figure out which WHITE bird you saw can be difficult. The reason is that you may have seen a bird affected by either of these two conditions:
- Albinism: This happens when cells can’t produce ANY melanin, which is the pigment that provides color to feathers.
- Leucism: This condition only involves a PARTIAL loss of pigmentation. Instead of being completely white, the bird may be duller in color or have irregular patches of white plumage.
The list below focuses ONLY on NATURALLY white birds found in Iowa.
#1. Rock Pigeon
- Columba livia
Rock Pigeons are extremely common, but they are almost exclusively found in urban areas. These birds are what everyone refers to as a “pigeon.” You have probably seen them gathering in huge flocks in city parks, hoping to get tossed some birdseed or leftover food.
The typical pigeon has a gray back, a blue-grey head, and two black wing bars. But their plumage is highly variable, and it’s common to see completely white birds in Iowa.
Rock Pigeon Range Map
Pigeons are easily attracted to bird feeders, especially if leftover food is lying on the ground. Unfortunately, these birds can become a nuisance if they visit your backyard in high numbers. Many people find their presence overwhelming and look for ways to keep them away!
Love them or hate them, Rock Pigeons have been associated with humans for a long time! Some Egyptian hieroglyphics suggest that people started domesticating them over 5,000 years ago. But, interestingly, scientists aren’t even sure where their original range occurs!
#2. Snow Bunting
- Plectrophenax nivalis
- Round bodied with a short thick conical bill.
- Breeding males are almost all white, with black on the back.
- Females and non-breeding males are white but have brown-streaked backs and brownish heads.
These charming white birds are a delight to see in Iowa!
But since Snow Buntings choose frigid locations high in the Arctic to breed, your best chance to find them is in winter in open fields along the roadside.
Snow Bunting Range Map
Even in summer, Snow Buntings have to work hard to keep their hatchlings warm enough to survive. They build their nests in the deep cracks of rocks and use a thick fur lining to protect the eggs. They never really leave the nest, ensuring it stays warm, and the male comes and feeds the mother every fifteen minutes.
#3. Ring-Billed Gull
- Larus delawarensis
- Adults range from 16.9 to 21.3 inches in length and have a wingspan of 41.3 and 46.1 inches.
- Breeding adults are clean gray above with a white head, white body, white tail, and black wingtips spotted with white.
- They have yellow legs, eyes, and bill with a black band.
Look for these white birds in Iowa near aquatic habitats.
They are often spotted on coasts, piers, large bodies of water, and landfills. However, unlike many other gulls, they prefer to nest near freshwater sources.
If you see a gull inland, it’s most likely a Ring-billed Gull. These birds have adapted well to human-disturbed areas and are common around cities, farmlands, docks, and parking lots. In fact, I see them often near my home, scavenging for food in a Target parking lot!
To see a complete list of the types of gulls and terns that live in Iowa, many of which are white, check out the article below.
#4. Great Egret
- Ardea alba
- Large, white bird with long, black legs.
- S-curved neck and a dagger-like yellow bill. Look for a greenish area between their eyes and the base of the bill.
- While they fly, their neck is tucked in, and their long legs trail behind.
Appearance-wise, Great Egrets are one of the most stunning white birds found in Iowa. They especially put on a show during breeding season when they grow long feathery plumes, called aigrettes, which are held up during courtship displays.
Great Egret Range Map
These aigrettes are so beautiful, Great Egrets were almost hunted to extinction in the 19th century because these white feathers made such nice decorations on ladies’ hats. The National Audubon Society was actually formed in response to help protect these birds from being slaughtered. To this day, the Great Egret serves as the organization’s symbol.
#5. Cattle Egret
- Bubulcus ibis
- Smaller heron with a yellow bill that often perches with its neck drawn in.
- Breeding adults are white but have yellow legs and golden feathers on their heads, backs, and chests.
- Non-breeding adults are entirely white with black legs.
Cattle Egrets are a bit unique when compared to other types of heron-like birds. Instead of spending their time near water, they typically live in fields, where they forage for invertebrates that have been kicked up at the feet of grazing livestock. It’s also common to see them looking for ticks on the backs of cattle!
Interestingly, these white birds are not native to Iowa.
Cattle Egrets are originally from Africa but found their way here in the 1950s and have since spread across the country. Their range keeps slowly expanding as people convert land for farming and livestock.
Cattle Egret Range Map
#6. Snowy Egret
- Egretta thula
- A completely white, medium-sized bird with a black dagger-like bill.
- Black legs, but their feet are yellow.
- A yellow patch of skin beneath their eye.
These beautiful white birds will often use their yellow feet to stir up water or mud to help them uncover hiding invertebrates, amphibians, or fish. Once their prey has been found, Snowy Egrets have no problem running their food down to finish the job!
Snowy Egret Range Map
Interestingly, Snowy Egrets will breed with other heron species, such as similarly sized birds like Tricolored Herons, Little Blue Herons, and Cattle Egrets. So if you see a heron that you can’t seem to identify, it may be a hybrid!
#7. American White Pelican
- Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
- GIANT white bird with a long neck and long bill.
- Yellow patch at the base of the bill that wraps around their eyes.
- Breeding adults have an odd plate that sticks up from the end of the bill.
It’s hard to miss these LARGE white birds in Iowa due to their massive size!
American White Pelicans typically weigh between 11 and 20 pounds (5 – 9 kg), but it’s their wingspan that is most impressive. The wings measure over 9 feet (2.7 m) from tip to tip, which is the second widest in North America, behind the California Condor.
American White Pelican Range Map
American White Pelicans are found on freshwater inland lakes during the breeding season. As winter approaches, they migrate south and are typically found near coastlines.
These large white birds look especially magnificent while in flight! Their wide wingspans allow them to soar gracefully for long distances in the sky. If you see them flying in a V-formation, it’s hard not to stop and stare as they almost look prehistoric.
#8. Tundra Swan
- Cygnus columbianus
- Large, white bird with a long white neck.
- Entirely black bill.
- Look for a yellow patch on their black facial skin, located just below the eye, to correctly identify.
- Smaller than Trumpeter Swans.
Tundra Swans form long-term, loyal relationships. Typically by the time they are 2 or 3, they have found a partner. Once that happens, these two birds will breed, feed, roost, and travel together year-round.
The most common sound these white birds make is a “hoo-ho-hoo” bugle, emphasizing the second syllable. (Listen below)
Another typical sound associated with Tundra Swans is the whistling of their wings. In fact, Lewis and Clark initially called them “whistling swans” when they first encountered them, and many people still use this name today.
#9. Mute Swan
- Cygnus olor
- A huge white bird with a long white neck.
- Look for the distinctive orange bill that features a black base and knob.
Mute Swans are one of the most elegant and beautiful birds you will see on the water. They are also enormous and are one of the heaviest birds that can fly!
But surprisingly, these white birds are NOT native to Iowa!
Due to their beauty, Mute Swans were imported from Europe and then released in parks, large estates, and zoos. Unfortunately, some individuals escaped and have established an invasive wild population.
Don’t be fooled by their appearance; these swans can be aggressive, and they regularly attack kayakers and other people who get too close to their nest. They also displace native ecosystems due to their voracious appetite, which requires up to 8 pounds (3.7 kg) of aquatic vegetation per day!
#10. Trumpeter Swan
- Cygnus buccinator
- A giant, white bird with a long neck.
- Black bill and black facial skin at the base of the bill. It lacks the yellow that appears on the Tundra Swan.
- Black legs.
Trumpeter Swans are the largest white bird native to Iowa!
They have a wingspan of almost 6 feet (1.8 m) and weigh around 25 pounds (11.3 kg), which is about twice the weight of a Tundra Swan. In fact, they are so big that about 100 yards of open water is needed for them to get enough speed to take off!
Trumpeter Swans were once endangered due to overhunting, but luckily their population has recovered, and they are increasing their numbers. Unlike Tundra Swans, this species stays in Iowa in summer to nest and breed. Look for them near ponds, lakes, rivers, and marshes, and the farther from people, the better!
These large birds typically nest on an existing structure surrounded by water, such as beaver dams, muskrat dens, small islands, floating masses of vegetation, and artificial platforms. Trumpeter Swans are very sensitive when breeding and commonly abandon their nest sites and babies due to human disturbance.
#11. Snow Goose
- Anser caerulescens
- Most Snow Geese are all white with black tail feathers. But some individuals display a “blue morph,” whose heads are still white but bodies are sooty gray.
- Pink legs.
- Pink bill, which has a black patch on each side.
During the breeding season, Snow Geese spend their time in the continent’s northernmost areas, away from human civilization. As a result, most people only get the pleasure of seeing this abundant white bird in Iowa when they migrate south in fall and winter.
Snow Goose Range Map
Look for them in large fields and bodies of water. If they are around, it’s usually not hard to find them, as they are almost always seen in huge flocks accompanied by a lot of honking!
And lastly, here is a fun fact that my kids loved to learn. Snow Geese are prolific at pooping, and they defecate between 6 – 15 times per hour. 🙂
#12. Ross’s Goose
- Anser rossii
- Small, stocky goose that is completely white, except for black wingtips. They are slightly larger than a Mallard duck.
- A stubby red-orange bill that has a gray base.
- Legs and feet are also red-orange.
Ross’s Goose looks very similar to the Snow Goose, except they are smaller and have a shorter neck and stubbier bill. It’s common for these two species to travel together in the same large flocks!
Ross’s Goose Range Map
Populations of Ross’s Goose have been increasing due to climate change. As their summer breeding grounds in the Arctic are warming, the snow cover has been reduced, which increases plant growth. More plants mean more food for Ross’s Goose, which leads to more babies being born and surviving!
During migration and the non-breeding season, these white birds can be seen in Iowa in marshes, lakes, and farm fields, where they enjoy eating leftover crops.
Which of the white birds have you seen before in Iowa?
Leave a COMMENT below! 🙂