Text Size: A  A  A

Great Blue Heron

Ardea herodias

Great blue herons are often seen wading silently in shallow water. (Mike Baird/Flickr)
Great blue herons are often seen wading silently in shallow water. (Mike Baird/Flickr)

The great blue heron is a tall, bluish-gray wading bird with a long, pointed bill and a graceful, S-shaped neck. It lives year-round in marshes and wetlands throughout the Chesapeake Bay region.

Appearance:

  • Bluish-gray body
  • White head with long, black, feathery plumes
  • Long, gray or brownish neck, often held in a graceful S-shape
  • Shaggy feathers on the neck and back
  • Underparts are streaked with black, brown and white
  • Yellow, spear-like bill
  • Long, chestnut legs
  • Grows to 4 feet tall with a wingspan of 6-7 feet

Habitat:

  • Lives in marshes and wetlands along the Bay and its creeks and rivers
  • Also found on freshwater lakes, ponds and impoundments
  • Most often seen wading silently in shallow water

Range:

  • Found year-round throughout the Chesapeake Bay region

Feeding:

  • Eats mostly fish, but will also feed on insects, amphibians, crustaceans and other small animals
  • Silently stalks its prey in shallow waters, then plunges its bill into the water to capture it
  • Spends about 90 percent of its waking hours hunting for food

Field Guide: Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) from Chesapeake Bay Program on Vimeo.

Predators:

  • Crows and ravens eat heron eggs
  • Hawks, bears, eagles, raccoons and turkey vultures have been known to prey on young and adult herons

Flight:

  • Flies with slow, deep wingbeats
  • Holds its neck in a graceful S-shape when flying

Voice:

  • Makes 3-4 hoarse croaks when alarmed
Great Blue Heron courtesy of Pamela C. Rasmussen, Avian Vocalizations Center

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Nests and breeds in colonies (called rookeries) with other herons. Breeding colonies are located in isolated areas such as wooded swamps and small islands, where human and predator access is limited.
  • May begin breeding as early as February. New breeders continue to arrive at the colonies well into May.
  • The male builds a nest of sticks and twigs high in the canopy of a tree
  • Females lay 3-7 eggs from mid-March to mid-June
  • Both parents incubate the eggs for about 28 days. The peak of hatching takes place from mid-April to mid-July.
  • Although they may have several eggs, the parents usually only raise one or two young; the others starve after hatching.
  • The young fledge after about 60 days
  • Usually lives for approximately 15 years

Other Facts:

  • The largest heron in North America
  • Herons have been known to choke to death while trying to swallow prey that is too large

Sources and Additional Information:




Click tabs to swap between type and habitat.

410 Severn Avenue / Suite 112
Annapolis, Maryland 21403
Tel: (800) YOUR-BAY / Fax: (410) 267-5777
Directions to the Bay Program Office
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy
©2012 Chesapeake Bay Program | All Rights Reserved