SPECIES

Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias

Ross G. Vennesland and Robert W. Butler
Version: 1.0 — Published March 4, 2020
Text last updated April 28, 2011

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Adult (Blue form)

Very large and tall, with a long neck. Grayish-blue overall with long orangish-yellow bill and black crown and head plumes.

Immature (Blue form)

Very large and tall, with a long neck. Grayish-blue overall with pale belly, dark streaking on the neck, and brownish feathers mixed throughout. Bill long and dusky colored.

Adult (Blue form)

In flight shows black flight feathers contrasting with powdery-blue plumage. Usually flights with neck in, but sometimes outstretched.

Adult (White form)

Very large and tall, with a long neck. White form is all white with long yellow bill and dull yellowish legs.

Adult (Wurdemann's)

Very large and tall, with a long neck. Body powdery-blue with white head, and orangish-yellow bill and legs.

Adult (Blue form)

When breeding has dense, shaggy plumes on the back and neck.

Adult (Blue form)

Hunts in a variety of shallow wetland habitats.

Adult (Blue form)

Nests in colonies of large stick nests high in trees, sometimes not near water.

Adult Great Blue Heron, Everglades NP, FL, January.

Adult Great Blue Herons have clean white crowns, whereas juveniles and immatures are duskier gray, becoming progressively whiter with age. ; photographer Marie Reed

Immature Great Blue Heron, Carmel, CA, 23 September.

The crown of this bird is mixed grayish and white, indicating an immature bird. This bird is likely in its second fall (possibly third). By the third fall most are indistinguishable from adults. Great Blue Herons often sit in trees, which can be surprising given their long legs and ground-foraging behavior.

Juvenile Great Blue Heron, Princeton WMA, IA, 23 July.

Note the overall dusky grayish plumage of this juvenile Great Blue, and the solidly dark gray crown. Over the course of the first winter, the crown feathers will begin to be replaced with whiter ones, and some short ornamental plumes will develop.; photographer Ernesto Scott

Adult Great Blue Heron (white-morph), Captiva Is., FL.

The 'Great White Heron' is generally considered a color-morph of the Great Blue (A. h. occidentalis), though some authorities suggest it is a distinct species. Where the dark and white forms overlap in Florida, intermediate birds known as 'Wurdemann's Herons' can be found; they have the grayish bodies of a Great Blue Heron, but the white head and neck of the Great White Heron.; photographer William L. Newton

Adult 'Wurdemann's Heron', Florida Panhandle, 7 March.

'Wurdemann's Herons' are hybrids between the blue and white morph of the Great Blue Heron. They are most common in south Florida, but can range throughout the state. The following is a link to this photographer's website: http://www.flickr.com/photos/boggybayou/.

Juvenile Great Blue Herons at the nest, Texas, April.

These birds are nearly fledged, and will leave the nest within a few days.; photographer Rick and Nora Bowers

Great Blue Heron swallowing a large fish, Florida.

Such large prey form a small part of this species' diet in most areas.; photographer Arthur Morris

Adult Great Blue Heron, Placida, FL, February.

Unlike several other heron species, Great Blues are not very active when foraging. Instead they stand mostly motionless, creeping close to the water before stabbing at prey items with their long bill.; photographer Arthur Morris

Great Blue Heron eating a Least Bittern (1 of 3), Florida, July

Great Blue Herons are formidable predators, feeding on a wide variety of prey. While small fish and amphibians are typical, they are generalists, and will take birds, mice, snakes, and other vertebrates. La Chua Trail, Payne's Prairie Preserve State Park, Gainesville, FL. July. This is a link to this contributor's Flickr stream: http//www.flickr.com/photos/48752517@N08.

Great Blue Heron eating a Least Bittern (2 of 3)

La Chua Trail at Payne's Prairie Preserve State Park, Gainesville, FL. July. This is a link to this photographer's flickr stream: http://www.flickr.com/photos/48752517@N08.

Great Blue Heron eating a Least Bittern (3 of 3)

La Chua Trail at Payne's Prairie Preserve State Park, Gainesville, FL. July. This is a link to this photographer's flickr stream: http://www.flickr.com/photos/48752517@N08.

Adult Great Blue Heron showing tongue detail, Florida, September.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/28206099@N03/page3/, Sep 12, 2008; photographer Jeff Smith

Adult Great Blue Heron stretch display, South Venice, FL, February.

Great Blues, and other herons, have intricate displays where they court their mates and show off their elegant plumes.; photographer Arthur Morris

Adult Great Blue Heron pair at the nest, South Venice, FL, February.

These birds are twig-passing, part of the courtship display of this species (see Behavior).; photographer Arthur Morris

Adult Great Blue Heron with chicks ~14 days old, Florida, February.

Chicks are fed regurgitated food.; photographer Arthur Morris

Recommended Citation

Vennesland, R. G. and R. W. Butler (2020). Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.grbher3.01