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

Sounds and Vocal Behavior

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Sounds and Vocal Behavior

Audio Gallery, or see the full catalog of Great Blue Heron sound at Macaulay Library.


Great Blue Herons are mostly silent except at breeding colonies and when disturbed on foraging grounds. It is unknown if there is any geographic variation in vocalizations. Calls generally show high variability and intergrade with each other (Bayer 1984b).

Vocal Array

Bayer (Bayer 1984b) lists 7 calls at breeding colonies. The Frawnk call is a rapid squawk, with an average duration of 19.7 s. It is given day and night when alarmed or when being aggressive toward conspecifics. This call may account for the local name “Crank” given to this species along the New England coast.

The Go-go-go call is a series of clucks given at the foraging site and breeding colony. When herons are disturbed by a slowly increasing stimulus, this is the first vocalization heard; if the disturbance continues, the Frawnk call follows as a herons' alarm increases (Vennesland 2000).

The Awk call is a scream, lasting an average of 2.3 s, that is given mostly in breeding colonies. This call is given when highly disturbed, such as during an attack by a predator (Vennesland 2000).

The Gooo call resembles the bleat of a calf, and is uttered at the end of the Full Forward display (see Figure 2a).

The Ee call is divided into two segments, uttered day and night, mostly while flying, and was used in various social circumstances.

The Roh-roh-roh call is a series of squawks uttered spontaneously for about 3.6 s by herons on the feeding grounds. Herons also commonly give this call as they arrive at their nest. It probably advertises territorial ownership on the foraging ground (Bayer 1984b).

The Landing call is similar to the Roh-roh-roh call, but is given when arriving at the nest. It could function in mate recognition (Mock 1976).

Nonvocal Sounds

Great Blue Herons sometimes make a loud bill snap as a part of their sexual display (see Behavior: sexual). Males snap bills most often when unmated and defending a nest site; but also during the bachelor stage when displaying toward females (Mock 1979). The snap continues to be given once pairs form, but less often than at other stages. Females snap bills when approaching bachelor males and after they have formed breeding pairs (Mock 1979). This behavior possibly is analogous to the territorial song of passerines (Mock 1976).

Bill clappering (Hancock and Kushlan 1984), defined as a rapid chattering of the tips of the bill, is very common between paired birds, and also occurs in many other heron species (Hancock and Kushlan 1984).

Fig. 2. Breeding displays of the Great Blue Heron.

(A) Forward display; (B) Stretch; (C) Bill duel. By D. Otte, from Mock (1976).

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