Great Blue Heron

Ardea herodias

great_blue_heron_0018.jpg

Photo of great blue heron
Great blue herons are often seen standing in shallow water, stalking fish and frogs.
Family

Ardeidae (herons) in the order Ciconiiformes

Description

Great blue herons have a very large, slate-blue body, long legs, long, pointy bill and a slender, long neck. The head is white with a black, plumed eye line. The thighs are reddish or rusty and the lower legs dark. The bill is yellowish, and the pale breast feathers are long and plumelike. The voice is a low, harsh “gwock,” often heard in flight.

Size

Length: 46 inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).

FG-0028_Heron_Great_Blue.mp4

Video of a great blue heron in the wild.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron at Busch Wildlife Conservation Area

Great Blue Heron

A great blue heron in flight. Its mouth is open as it calls.
Great Blue Heron
A great blue heron vocalizes during flight just before landing at Busch Wildlife CA

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron standing on a log on a bank near Warsaw, MO at Lake of the Ozarks.
Great Blue Heron on a log

Great Blue Heron

Great blue heron standing on a log. The long neck feathers and red coloration on legs are prominent.
Great Blue Heron on a log
Lake of the Ozarks, Warsaw, MO
Habitat and conservation

Great blue herons are found in aquatic environments where they can wade and forage for prey. Water-quality issues affect them, as they are an important part of wetlands and open-water ecosystems.

Foods

Herons forage in shallow pools, edges of lakes and similar areas for aquatic prey including frogs, small fish and many other animals that can be swallowed.

image of Great Blue Heron Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide, near bodies of water.

Status

Uncommon summer resident in nesting colonies statewide; common during migration and when young individuals are dispersing from breeding colonies. Uncommon winter resident where water is unfrozen.

Life cycle

Herons gather in large nesting colonies near water and food. A colony can contain hundreds of bulky stick nests. Each pair of great blue herons typically lays 3–6 eggs, which are incubated for nearly a month. The chicks hatch one at a time, with the first to hatch growing more quickly than the others. It is important to stay far back from breeding colonies, since the birds and their chicks can suffer fatal accidents in their haste to escape.

Human connections

These magnificent wading birds are enjoyed by bird watchers and others who witness their careful foraging and broad wing strokes as they take flight near water.

Ecosystem connections

As top predators, great blue herons check populations of many aquatic and animals. Their eggs and chicks are frequently preyed upon by other predators, though not many animals hunt the adults.