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Great Blue Heron

Ardea herodias

Length: 48 inches Wingspan: 80 inches Seasonality: Summer / Migrant
ID Keys: Large size, large bill, black crown stripe on white face, blue-gray body

Great Blue Heron - Ardea herodiasThe largest and most widespread heron, Great Blue Herons are familiar to many in North America.  Vary adaptable, the Great Blue Heron can be found  living in a wide variety of environments, from mangrove swamps in Florida to the coastline of Alaska.  They are similarly very adaptable in diet, and eating a wide variety of items. In Florida and parts of the Caribbean, there's a form of the Great Blue Heron with nearly all white plumage, sometimes called the Great White Heron.

Habitat:

Marshes, sloughs, ponds, streams, rivers, and lakes.  

Diet:

Variable, includes fish, frogs, salamanders, rodents, snakes, birds, and large insects.  Birds in certain locations may specialize in a specific prey item.

Behavior:

Primarily forages by standing still in the water or walking slowly, and then striking quickly with it's bill when prey items are spotted.  They will hunt day or night.

Nesting:

April and May.  Great Blue Herons are colonial nesters, occasionally in mixed colonies with other wading bird species.  The nest is a large platform of sticks, and is sometimes placed in a tree, in dense shrubs, in thick wetland vegetation, or on the ground, depending upon location and predator abundance.  The female usually lays 3 to 5 eggs, and both parents help to incubate them.  When the eggs hatch, both parents help raise and feed the young.  The young stay at the nest for a long period of time, for 2 months or more, before fledging.

Song:

The most commonly heard vocalization is likely the flight call of a bird that's been flushed and takes flight. Click hear to hear the flight call of a Great Blue Heron (audio courtesy of Lauren Harter). Young at the nest will give series of chattering croaks (audio courtesy of Mike Nelson).

Migration:

Birds in the northern half of the U.S. are generally migratory.  Winters in southern U.S. or near coasts, also down through Mexico, Central America, and northern South America.

Interactive eBird map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Great Blue Heron sightings

Similar Species:

Superficially similar to Sandhill Crane, Great Egret, or other large cranes and egrets, but generally distinctive compared to other North American Egret and Heron species.  Most similar to the Gray Heron, the Old World ecological counterpart of the Great Blue Heron.

Conservation Status:

Generally stable throughout its range, Great Blue Herons are found across a very wide geographic area, and are common in many areas.  The IUCN lists the Great Blue Heron as a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information:

1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Great Blue Heron

2) Audubon Guide - Great Blue Heron

3) Whatbird.com: Great Blue Heron

Photo Information:

May 2nd, 2003 -- Western Minnehaha County -- Terry L. Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Great Blue Heron photos.

 

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Great Blue Heron - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common summer resident and migrant in the eastern part of the state.  Common in western South Dakota where suitable habitat exists.

Additional Great Blue Heron Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
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