Herons, Egrets and Bitterns
The family Ardeidae includes 17 species found in North America.
Bitterns, Egrets, and Herons occur mainly in wet habitats in temperate and tropical regions and on many islands. They are medium to large in size (30-140 cm long) with long legs; most species have long necks and slender bodies. Bills usually long, straight and sharp-pointed. The night herons are stouter with shorter necks.
Food is mainly aquatic animals, including fish, amphibians and insects. Some species also take reptiles, small mammals, birds, mollusks and crustaceans. Prey is usually seized in the bill, sometimes impaled. Pellets of indigestible parts are regurgitated. Various foraging methods are used: stand and wait in water for prey to appear; walk slowly in shallow water, along the margin or on a mudflat or beach; foot-stirring or trampling in muddy or sandy areas to flush prey; run about in shallow water to pursue prey; swim in deeper water and surface dive; hover and plunge-dive; dive from a perch. Most herons are diurnal (active during the day). Night-herons feed during the day, at dusk and at night.
Most herons nest in dense or dispersed colonies. A few species, including most bitterns, are solitary. Nests are platforms of interlocked sticks in trees or piles of vegetation in reeds or on the ground, built mainly or entirely by the female of material brought by the male. Eggs usually 3-7, usually unmarked white, buff, pale blue, greenish or olive-brown. They are laid at intervals of 1-3 days. Incubation begins with the first or second egg, hatching asynchronous. Sibling murder or starvation may eliminate smaller chicks when food is scarce. Usually both adults incubate (only female in polygamous bitterns) 19-30 days. Downy hatchlings are fed by partial and complete regurgitation by both parents or only female. Young may leave the nest in a week and clamber about nearby, returning to the nest for feeding. Fledging occurs at 30-55 days of age but young remain dependent on parents for longer periods, especially in the larger species. Age at first breeding is 1-2 years.
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Herons - Patuxent Bird ID Center
Great Blue Heron Page