It sounds like the setup for a joke missing a punchline: What’s big and white and seen all over?

One of the first things many Southwest Florida newcomers may notice is the abundance of large, pale, two-legged creatures. No, not their fellow newcomers; we’re talking about the region’s feathered fauna: the myriad species of white birds that also call the region home.

Egrets and ibis, herons and pelicans — they all come in white varieties, and that can be confusing, especially since some of them look very similar at first glance.

Unlike some other species that have memory devices to help tell them apart (think “Red on yellow, kill a fellow; red on black, venom lack” for the coral snake versus kingsnake IDs) retired FGCU professor Jerry Jackson, the region’s preeminent ornithologist can’t think of any such handy rhymes for telling white birds apart.

“I’ve never heard of any,” he says, “But it’d be a good idea, because there are so many.”

Kathy Miller, who’s been trying to figure out just which bird’s been hanging around her North Fort Myers pond, could sure use one. “My mnemonic is ‘What the heck is that?’ she jokes.

Maybe the region’s pioneers were onto something, with their one-name-fits-all monicker for white wading birds.

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