What is Heron?

The heron is long-legged, long-necked, freshwater and coastal birds. They belong to the Ardeidae family, with 64 observed species. Some of the species among them are referred to as egrets or bitterns rather than a heron.  The heron is widely distributed throughout the world but is most commonly seen in the Tropics. 

The heron is also known as shitepokes /ˈʃaɪtpoʊk/, or indirectly as shikepokes or shypokes. The herons are given this name because of their habit of excretion when flushed. Read on to know more about “Heron”. Read below to know more about heron characteristics, diet, habitat, breeding type, and many more.


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Heron Characteristics

The heron is a medium to large size bird with long necks and legs. They exhibit very tiny sexual dimorphism in size. Sexual dimorphism is the situation where two male and female sex of the same species show distinct attributes beyond their difference in sexual organs.

The small species are generally referred to as the dwarf bittern (species of heron belonging to the Ardeidae family), which measures 25-30 cm (9.8–11.8 in) in length., although all the species in the genus of bitterns such as Ixobrychus are small and overlap in size. The Goliath heron is the largest species of heron which stands up to 152 cm ( 62 in) in height. 

The neck of the heron bird can get entangled in S-shape because of the modified shape of the cervical vertebrae, of which they have almost 20-21. Unlike most other long-necked birds, the neck of the horn can retract and is retracted during flying. 

The legs of the heron bird are long and strong in almost every species and have no feathers from the lower portion of the bone marrow (excluding the zigzag heron). The legs and feet of the heron are held backwards while flying. The feet of the heron have long and thin toes with three pointing forward and one pointing backwards.

The bill for the heron bird is generally long and pierced. It can change from extremely fine as in the agony heroin, to thick as in the grey heron. The bill along with the other parts of the bare body is generally yellow, black, or brown, and this can be varied during the breeding season. The most uncommon bill is owned by the boat-billed heron, which has a long and thick bill.

The wings of the Heron are long and broad, demonstrating 10-11 primary feathers, 15-20 secondary feathers, and 12 rectrices (10 in the bitterns). The feathers of the heron are soft and the layers of feathers are generally blue, black, white, grey, or brown.


Heron Bird Habitat

The heron is widely distributed across all or most parts of the World in suitable habitats. They are found on all continents excluding Antarctica and are present in almost all places except the coldest extremes of the Arctic. extremely high mountains and dried desert. 

Almost all the heron species are found in water and are essentially non-swimming water birds that feed on the margins of lakes, ponds, sea, rivers, and swamps. They are primarily found in the lowland areas, although some species live in alpine areas, and most species are found in the tropics. 

The heron family is highly mobile, with some species are partially migratory and most of the species are least partially migratory. The most partially migratory species such as grey heron, which is primarily sedentary in Britain, but mostly migratory in Scandinavia. 

Birds are widely dispersed after breeding, but before the annual migration where the species is colonial, looking out for the new feeding areas and minimizing the pressure on feeding grounds near the colony. The migration usually takes place at night, as an individual, or in small groups.


Herons Diet

The bitterns and herons are carnivorous. The members of these families are mostly found on wetland and water and feed on different live aquatic prey. As herons are carnivorous, they prefer to eat different aquatic animals like fish, reptiles, amphibians, crustaceans, molluscs, and aquatic insects.  Many species also artfully take larger prey such as birds, birds eggs, rodents, and more scarcely carrion ( decaying flesh of dead animals including human flesh). Even more scarcely, heron-eating peas, acorns, and grains have also been seen, but the consumption of vegetable matter is random.


Herons Hunting Techniques

During hunting, the birds sit motionless on the edge of or stand in shallow water and wait until prey comes within range.

Having seen the prey, the heron’s head moves side to side so that they can calculate the position of the prey in water and recompense for refraction, then further the bill is used to slice the prey, birds may either do this from a vertical position or giving them a wider area to observe the prey, or from a squatting position, which is more confusing, and means the bill is closer to the prey. 

Including sitting and standing, herons may feed more actively. To catch prey, they may walk slowly, around or less than 60 paces per minute. Other active feeding behaviour of the horn includes probing and stirring, where the feet are used to flush out the prey. The winds are used to terrify prey or to minimize radiance, the most extreme example of this is seen in a black heron which forms a full coverage with its wings over its body. 


Types of Herons


Grey Heron


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Grey Heron is the long-legged bird belonging to the family of Ardeidae, found throughout Europe and Asia and also in parts of Africa. 

The Grey Heron is a large carnivorous bird, standing up to 100 cm (39 inches) tall, and measuring (84 -102) cm (33 - 40 in) long with a 155 - 195 cm (67 - 77 in) wingspan. The bodyweight of the Grey Heron can range from 1.02 - 2.08 Kg. 

The heron was first observed in the fossil record during the Paleogene period, very few fossil herons were found there. By the late seven million years ago (the late Miocene), birds looked a lot like modern forms and mature to modern genera had appeared.

Grey heron can be found anywhere with suitable water habitat that can provide an adequate supply of food.  The water body needs to be shallow enough or have a shelving margin in it, within which the bird can easily wade.  Although the grey heron is most commonly found in the lowlands, it also occurs in lakes, reservoirs, ponds, ditches, flooded areas, estuaries, coarse lagoons, and seashores.


Black Crowned Night Heron


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The black-crowned night heron or black-capped night heron is a medium-sized heron found throughout a larger part of the World, excluding the coldest region and Australasia (a region that includes Australia, New Zealand, and some neighbouring islands).

Adult black-crowned herons have a black crown and back with the remaining portion of the body white, or grey, red eyes, and short yellow legs. The bird has pale green wings and white underparts. The sexes of this species have a similar appearance, although the males are slightly big. Black-crowned night heron does not take the typical body form of the heron family. They are relatively sturdy with shorter bills, legs, and neck in comparison to their family cousin, the egrets, and “day” heron. 

Immature Black-crowned night herons have dull grey-brown plumage on their heads, wings, and backs with varied pale spots whereas the young Black-crowned night herons have orange eyes and duller-yellowish green legs.


Little Blue Heron

The little blue heron is the small heron of the family Ardeidae. The little blue heron is about 64 –76 cm long, with a 102 cm wingspan, and weighs 325 g. It is a medium-large, long-legged heron with a long painted pale blue or greyish bill with a darker or black tip. 

Breeding adult little blue heron birds have blue-grey plumage. The head and neck of this species are purplish and have long blue thread-like plumes whereas the legs and feet are dark blue, green, or greenish in colour. The sexes of the bird are similar.

Non-breeding adults have a dark blue head and neck plumage and paler legs whereas young birds are all white in their first year, except for dark wing tips and have dull greenish legs. They gradually acquire the adults' dark plumage in their first spring or first summer.

This species is quite similar to the much larger and bigger-billed Reddish Egret. Immature little blue herons and immature Snowy Egrets are both similar to each other.  


Pond Heron


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Pond Heron is a stocky species, typically 40- 50 cm long with an 80-100 cm wingspan. The scientific name is derived from the Latin ardeola, with the small heron.

These species have a low neck, low stocky bill, buff or brownish back, and coloured or streaked fore neck and breast. The pond herons are transformed in flight, looking white due to the striking white wings.

The breeding habits of this species is marshy wetlands. They nest in small colonies often with the other wading birds, generally on platforms of sticks in trees or shrubs. They lay almost 2- 5 eggs.

These species mostly feed on insects, amphibians, and fish. Also, they are mostly found on ponds.


Squacco Heron


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The squacco heron is a small species of heron that stands up to 44- 47 cm long, of which the body is 20- 23 cm, with 80-92 cm in wingspan.

The squacco heron are stocky species with a short neck, short thick bill, and buff-brown back. During summers, adult squacco herons have long neck feathers. The appearance of squacco herons is transformed in flight, looking white due to the striking white wings.

The breeding habit of this species is marshy wetlands in warm countries. They nest in small colonies often with the other wading birds, generally on platforms of sticks in trees or shrubs. They lay almost 3 - 4 eggs and feed on fish, frogs, and insects.


Did You Know?

  • Herons are carnivorous. They mostly eat the flesh of other animals.

  • Except for Antarctica, they are almost found on every continent.

  • Herons have huge wingspan, usually 2 times bigger than their body size. The heron's wingspan can reach up to 5.5 to 6.6 feet.

  • Heron is actively seen both day and night. Specially designed eyes enable herons to see equally both on day and night.

  • Each partner is chosen by Heron for mating every year. Both parents take care of their chicks.

  • Herons are excellent flyers that can reach up to a speed of 30 miles per hour. During the flight, their neck is curled in S-shape, while legs dangle at the back of the body.

  • Heron can live for 15 years in the wild and 25 years in captivity.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. What are Herons?

Ans. The herons are tall, long-legged, long-billed wading birds. They are found in wetlands throughout the world searching for crabs, fish, occasionally frogs, small mammals, and even young birds. The herons are mostly colonial. Most day and night herons are colonial, or partial colonial depending on the circumstance, whereas the bitterns and tiger herons are mostly solitary nesters.  Colonial may contain several species, as well as the species of other birds.

2. Where Does the Nest of the Herons are Found?

Ans. The nest of the herons is generally found near or above water. They are usually placed in vegetation, although the nests of some species have been found on the ground where suitable trees or shrubs are unavailable. Trees are used by many species, and here the nest must be placed above the ground whereas the species living near the reed bed may have nests very close to the ground. 

3. How Many Eggs Does Heron Lay?

Ans. Generally, herons lay between three and seven eggs.

4. What is the Difference Between Egret and Heron?

Ans. Egrets are a type of heron. The term “Egret” is derived from the French word “ Aigrette” which means “ silver heron” and “ brush” refers to the long, filamentous feathers that are seen in the egret’s back during the breeding season. The difference between Egret and Heron is rather uncertain and depends more on appearance than Biology. 


The biological name of the Heron is Ardeidate whereas the biological name of Egret is Adeaalba. There are around 21 genera of Heron whereas there are around 4 genera of Egret. The Herons are generally taller, have lighter legs, and heavier beaks whereas the Egrets are considerably shorter than Heron, have black legs with white pace and have lighter beaks.