The Great Blue Heron is the best known and most widely distributed of all North American herons. These large gray-blue birds with their long legs , necks, and bills are familiar sights throughout many parts of the United States as they stand silently and majestically in shallow water poised to launch at unsuspecting prey , or fly overhead with neck curled over their shoulders , long legs extended, and widespread wings slowly and gracefully beating.
- Great blue herons are large-bodied, from 40 to 50 inches tall. Their black crown extends backward in a 10-inch plume over each eye. Their heads are black and white; their bodies are bluish-gray. Look for a black shoulder patch with a smaller cinnamon patch just behind it. Their breasts and bellies are black with white streaks. The two sexes are alike in color, but females may be 10 percent smaller than males.
- Widespread and fairly common, Great Blue Herons are frequently incorrectly referred to as "cranes" and may be found near almost any type of water feature.
Click on the language to view common names.
Common Names in English:
big cranky, Blue Crane, California heron, Crane, Espiritu Santo heron, Florida heron, gray crane, Great Blue Heron, great white heron, Long john, northwestern coast heron, poor joe, San Lucas heron, Treganza's heron, Ward's heron
Common Names in French:
Grand H, grand hÃ©ron, grand héron
Common Names in German:
Common Names in Japanese:
Common Names in Russian:
Цапля большая голубая
Common Names in Spanish:
Garza Azul, Garza Morena
Adult : Head : Crown: bold black line on side Face : Eyebrow Line: white Bill: yellowish Length : long Size: stout Neck: Foreneck: white with black and white streaking in midline Body: blue-gray Legs : Leg Color: blackish yellow Tail: Length: short.
The Great Blue Heron is gray-blue overall. A dark stripe
above the eye. The front of the throat
is light gray with
dark streaks. The bill is yellowish, and the legs
Adult : White crown and face · Black plume extending from above and behind eye to beyond back of head · Brownish-buff neck with black-bordered white stripe down center of foreneck · Blue-gray back, wings and belly · Black shoulder · Shaggy neck and back plumes in alternate plumage
Immature : Black cap · Brownish-gray back and upperwings · Lacks shaggy neck and back plumes · Lacks black plume extending from behind eye
"Great White Heron": White morph of Great Blue Heron · Large yellow bill · Yellow legs · White plumage · Single white plume extending back from above eye · Found only in South Florida, rarely north along the coast
About 38 to 52 inches long, with a wingspan of 77 to 82 inches. Adults
weigh about 91.2 ounces
Adult herons are 1.1-1.3 m (3.5-4.3 ft ) long and have a wingspan up to 2.1 m (7 ft). Hollow boned, they weigh 2.3-3.6 kg (5-8 lb ). Males are slightly larger than females.
The Great Blue Heron forages close to shore in slow-moving water in both marine and freshwater environments, including coastal habitats , estuaries, mangroves , rivers , and lakes . Nesting sites require tall trees such as are found in wooded swamps . Nests are often on islands safe from predators .
Vegetation: freshwater marshes, saltwater and brackish marshes, coastal sand beaches and mudflats, freshwater lakes and ponds, rivers, tropical lowland evergreen forest, mangrove forests • Maximum Elevation: 2,000 meters • Foraging Strata: Water • Center of Abundance: Lower subtropical: lowlands, lower than 500 m.; subtropics. • Sensitivity to Disturbance: Low
Typically found at an altitude of 0 to 4,146 meters (0 to 13,602 feet).
List of Habitats
- 1 Forest
- 1.7 Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Mangrove Vegetation Above High Tide Level
- 5 Wetlands (inland)
- 5.1 Wetlands (inland) - Permanent Rivers/Streams/Creeks (includes waterfalls )
- 5.4 Wetlands (inland) - Bogs , Marshes, Swamps , Fens , Peatlands
- 5.5 Wetlands (inland) - Permanent Freshwater Lakes (over 8ha)
- 12 Marine Intertidal
- 12.4 Marine Intertidal - Mud Flats and Salt Flats
These herons forage
most actively just before dawn and at dusk but
may also feed
during the day and even at night. Seventy-five percent
of their diet
is non-game fishes
. In addition they forage for amphibians
, crabs, shrimps, shrews, young rats
gophers, insects (grasshoppers and dragonflies),
and sometimes small birds.
They use two fishing techniques. In the first the heron stands motionless in shallow water with head extended at a 45o angle to the water’s surface, moving only its head and eyes. After waiting patiently for a few minutes, if no dinner has come by, it moves a short distance and again strikes a pose. This time spotting a fish, the heron slowly moves its head back and forth, then cautiously moves one leg in the prey’s direction . Suddenly the bird plunges its head into the water to catch the fish in its bill crosswise. Then, if the fish is less than one half the length of its bill, it swallows it whole after manipulating it to go down its throat headfirst. If the fish is too large to be swallowed immediately or has dangerous spines, the crafty heron uses its beak to violently and repeatedly toss the fish into the water until it is dazed and easy to eat or the spines snap. Sometimes the fish is tossed on the ground until it breaks up into smaller portions.
In the second less effective strategy the heron wades around in shallow water until a fish is driven out of its hiding place at which time the bird stops and extends its neck. When the prey is within striking distance, the bird uncoils its body and thrusts its head into the water in an attempt to catch the fish.
Great Blue Herons first mate at two years of age and select a new
mate each year. They usually nest
together in colonies called heronries.
includes many displays—vocalizing, bowing, bill tapping,
and stretching to show off nuptial
plumes Mating occurs when the
pair bond is established
. Both sexes participate in the incubation
brooding, and feeding of their offspring. The male selects the nest
site which may be new, or reconstruction of one used previously.
It is usually located high on rock ledges, sea
, or at the
top of tall trees
(pine, cypress, eucalyptus) or man-made structures.
Occasionally the site is the ground
. The male gathers the building
and the female weaves them into a nest. It takes less than
a week to build a nest strong enough to support
the parents, eggs
and eventually, several large chicks. The nest is sometimes lined
with moss, lichen, twigs
, pine needles
, reeds, and/or marsh
Twigs will be added from time to time while the eggs are incubating
and after the chicks emerge
Three to seven (average four) pale blue to olive-green eggs are laid in March-May. The male incubates the eggs during the day and the female at night. The bird doing the incubating uses its bill to roll the eggs over about once every two hours. The gestation period is about 28 days. Hatchlings are almost naked, their eyes are closed , and they are helpless, but they develop rapidly. The parents place regurgitated food (usually fish) in their mouths at first, and then on the floor of the nest for the chicks to pick up. At two weeks of age the chicks start cleaning their feathers , stand upright with wings half opened, and vibrate their throat membrane to cool off. At this time the parents start spending more time away from the nest and less time brooding the chicks. At six weeks of age old they start preparing for flight by walking around the nest and adjacent tree branches and at eight weeks fly clumsily from tree to tree returning to the nest to be fed. They become independent when 10 weeks old.
Great Blue Herons usually nest in areas relatively free of human disturbances . Such is not the case at the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge in Seal Beach, California which is surrounded on three sides by human activities including housing tracts. Here the year-round residential herons nest on navigation buoys in a busy narrow channel leading in and out of a marina, on a 23 m (75 ft ) open tower within sight and hearing of a major east-west highway, and in eucalyplus grooves next to office buildings and maintenance yards . While this is amazing, even more so is the fact that the herons return to the same nests year after year.
Northern birds migrate
These birds stand patiently in shallow water or slowly stalk
of fish, amphibians
, crustaceans, reptiles
, birds, insects and
small mammals. Their cry is much like a "grak" but they
are often silent. They are wary and cautious, ready to take flight
, flying with slow strokes of their long wings
Great Blue Herons communicate with a wide range of sounds with the result that heronries (rookeries of herons) are noisy raucous places, especially after the eggs hatch . The birds sound “frawnk” in breeding colonies when alarmed; “gooo” at the end of one of the courtship display; “ee” when flying; and a series of clucks when foraging . The bird returning to the nest lets its mate know it is arriving by uttering a “roh-roh-roh” sound to which the nest- bound mate responds with a series of displays. In addition to announcing his arrival, the male often brings the female a twig . She takes the stick and weaves it into the nest as the male taps her bill side-to-side. A heron bringing food back to feed the chicks, perches a short distance away from the nest for as long as five minutes. In the meantime the hungry chicks shriek noisily in a chorus demanding to be fed.
These herons exhibit as many displays as they make sounds. While preening its feathers with its serrated bill, the heron extends its neck and tilts its head so that its eyes can alternately look upward to check for other herons or predatory birds flying over the foraging grounds . When two birds approach in a foraging area, each extends its neck fully, tilts its head over its back, partially opens its wings, and erects its body plumes. During courtship males make loud bill snaps and females snap their bills at approaching unwanted males. Paired birds often do a rapid side-to-side tapping of each other’s bill tip.
The herons that are not year-round residents depart for warmer climates in early fall . The usual migrating group is three to 12 herons but may sometimes be as many as 100. They travel day and night.
- Whittaker & Margulis,1978
- C. Linnaeus, 1758
- (Hatschek, 1888) Cavalier-Smith, 1983
- Grobben, 1908
- (Haeckel, 1874) Cavalier-Smith, 1998
- Bateson, 1885
- Cuvier, 1812
- Jawed Vertebrates
- Goodrich, 1930
- Linnaeus, 1758
- Gauthier, 1986
- (C. Linnaeus, 1758)
- Pycraft, 1900
- Garrod, 1874
- Wagler, 1830
- Infraorder: Ciconiides () -
- Suborder: Ciconii () -
- Order: Ardeiformes () - Wagler, 1830
- Superorder: Ciconiimorphae () - Garrod, 1874
- Cohort: Neognathae () - Pycraft, 1900
- Infraclass: Aves () - (C. Linnaeus, 1758)
- Subclass: Avialae () - Gauthier, 1986
- Class: Aves () - Linnaeus, 1758
- Superclass: Tetrapoda () - Goodrich, 1930
- Infraphylum: Gnathostomata () - auct. - Jawed Vertebrates
- Subphylum: Vertebrata () - Cuvier, 1812 - Vertebrates
- Phylum: Chordata () - Bateson, 1885 - Chordates
- Infrakingdom: Chordonia () - (Haeckel, 1874) Cavalier-Smith, 1998
- Branch: Deuterostomia () - Grobben, 1908
- Subkingdom: Bilateria () - (Hatschek, 1888) Cavalier-Smith, 1983
- Kingdom: Animalia () - C. Linnaeus, 1758 - animals
Status: Accepted Name
Last scrutiny: 17-Oct-2001
Members of the genus Ardea
ZipcodeZoo has pages for 24 species and subspecies in this genus:
A. alba (Great White Egret) · A. alba alba (Great White Egret) · A. cinerea (European Blue Heron) · A. cinerea cinerea (European Blue Heron) · A. cocoi (White-Necked Heron) · A. goliath (Goliath Heron) · A. herodias (Northwestern Coast Heron) · A. herodias fannini (Great Blue Heron) · A. herodias herodias (Great Blue Heron) · A. herodias hyperonca (Great Blue Heron) · A. herodias occidentalis (Great White Heron) · A. herodias sanctilucae (Great Blue Heron) · A. herodias treganzai (Great Blue Heron) · A. herodias wardi (Great Blue Heron) · A. humbloti (Madagascar Heron) · A. imperialis (White-Bellied Heron) · A. insignis (White-Bellied Heron) · A. melanocephala (Black-Headed Heron) · A. novaehollandiae (White-Faced Heron) · A. pacifica (White-Necked Heron) · A. picata (Pied Heron) · A. purpurea (Purple Heron) · A. sumatrana (Great-Billed Heron) · A. sumatrana sumatrana (Great-Billed Heron)
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- The birds of Maine; with key to and description of the various species known to occur or to have occured in the state, an account of their distribution and migration, showing their relative abundance in the various count by Ora Willis Knight. .. Bangor, Me.[printed by C. H. Glass & co.]1908. url p. 129.
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Accessed through GBIF Data Portal March 03, 2008:
- Avian Knowledge Network: eBird
- Avian Knowledge Network: Great Backyard Bird Count
- Avian Knowledge Network: Project FeederWatch
- Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum: Bishop Museum Natural History Specimen Data
- Bird Studies Canada: BC Coastal Waterbird Survey
- Bird Studies Canada: Marsh Monitoring Program - Birds
- Bird Studies Canada: Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas 1981-1985
- Bird Studies Canada: Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas 2001-2005
- Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics
- Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility: North West Territories and Nunavut Bird Checklist, Canada
- Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility: Ontario Nest Records
- Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility: Provincial Museum of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada. Birds (Aves)
- Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility: Royal British Columbia Museum
- Canadian Museum of Nature: Canadian Museum of Nature Bird Collection
- Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, Rutgers University: Bay of Fundy Species List (OBIS Canada)
- Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, Rutgers University: SEAMAP - marine mammals, birds and turtles
- Marine Science Institute, UCSB: Paleobiology Database
- New Brunswick Museum: NBM birds
- Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History: Santa Barbara Musem of Natural History
- UNIBIO, IBUNAM: CNAV/Coleccion Nacional de Aves
- University of Michigan Museum of Zoology (UMMZ): Bird specimens
- Biodiversity Heritage Library NamebankID: 8827
- Catalogue of Life Accepted Name Code: ITS-174773
- Global Biodiversity Information Facility Taxonkey: 2497311
- Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) Taxonomic Serial Number (TSN): 174773
- IUCN ID: 192482
- Natural Heritage Network Species Identifier: ABNGA04010
- Zipcode Zoo Species Identifier: 254