Great Blue Heron

Ardea herodias
A Great Blue Heron specimen on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

The largest heron in North America north of Mexico, the Great Blue Heron is, for the most part, an easy bird to identify. At 42-52 inches, its gray-blue back, buff neck, yellow bill, white face, and long, black facial plumes help to distinguish it from most other waders in its range. The all-white Caribbean subspecies, which enters our area in south Florida, may be distinguished from the similarly-colored Great Egret by its yellow legs and feet. Male and female Great Blue Herons are similar at all times of the year. The Great Blue Heron breeds across the majority of the United States and southern Canada. Great Blue Herons that breed in southern Canada and the northern Great Plains migrate south for the winter, when they may be found in Central America and the Caribbean. Populations living in most of the U.S. are non-migratory. This species is absent from the desert southwest and from high elevations of the Rocky Mountains. Great Blue Herons live in and around small bodies of water. In summer, Great Blue Herons nest in colonies, called ‘rookeries,’ surrounding lakes and ponds. They may nest either in trees, in bushes, or on the ground. This species utilizes similar habitats during the winter. Great Blue Herons mainly eat fish, but may also take crustaceans and small vertebrates (such as frogs, lizards, and mice) when the opportunity arises. Great Blue Herons may be best observed wading in shallow water, where they may be seen plunging their bills into the water to catch fish. It is also possible to see Great Blue Herons at their rookeries, especially when they return to roost at sunset, or while flying with their feet extended and their necks pulled in. Great Blue Herons are primarily active during the day.

DC Information

Common permanent resident, more abundant in summer than in winter. Nests from mid-March to mid-July. Found wading in streams, in fresh and salt marshes, and along barrier beaches. Sexes are similar.

Specimen Information

Date: 7/18/1891
Collected By: TJ Herald
Locality:  Hunson Hill, MD
Sex: Female
Catalog ID: 121165

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Ardea herodias

Ardea herodias

Sound from xeno-canto. XC16894 Ardea herodias (Great Blue Heron)