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threatened and/or endangered

Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias


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Great Blue Heron
credit: Dori/CCSA

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Ardeidae, Herons, Egrets, Bitterns view all from this family

Description ADULT Typical morph appears blue-gray overall, but neck is tinged pinkish and adorned with black and white streaks down center. Note the mainly white face and crown, separated by broad black stripe that ends in short plumes. Lower breast feathers form shaggy plumes; note also the reddish "trousers." Lores are blue at height of breeding season. In flight, seen from above, note the dark flight feathers; from below, wings look uniformly dark gray, except for reddish leading edge to inner wing. White morph has pure white plumage; intermediate forms also occur with variably pale pinkish blue body plumage and white head. JUVENILE Similar overall to adult, but blue morph birds are less strikingly marked, particularly on head: crown is dark and head plumes are absent.

Dimensions Length: 39-52" (99-132 cm); Wngspn: 5' 10" (1.8 m)

Habitat Locally common, nesting colonially in vicinity of wetlands. Present year-round in much of southern U.S., but range extends north in spring and summer and contracts south to ice-free habitats outside breeding season; often seen on coasts in winter. White morph ("Great White Heron") and intermediates are restricted to Florida.

Observation Tips Given this species' size and often bold nature, it is hard to miss in most suitable wetlands.

Range Plains, Southwest, Rocky Mountains, California, Texas, Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic, Eastern Canada, Western Canada, Alaska, New England, Northwest, Southeast, Florida

Voice Utters a hoarse fraarnk call in flight; otherwise mostly silent.

Discussion Huge heron with long legs and neck and huge, daggerlike bill. Typical blue-gray form is unmistakable but white morph ("Great White Heron") could be mistaken for smaller Great Egret, which has dark (not yellowish legs) and a proportionately smaller bill. Diet of all birds is highly variable and includes fish, amphibians, and crustaceans, and even mammals and birds on occasion. Flies with deep, powerful wingbeats, neck hunched up and legs trailing. Sexes are similar.