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Great Blue Heron

Scientific name: Ardea herodias

This is the largest of all herons, standing 3.5 – 4.5 feet high.

Widespread and familiar (though often called “crane”), this is the largest heron in North America. Often seen standing silently along inland rivers or lakeshores, or flying high overhead, with slow wingbeats, its head hunched back onto its shoulders. Highly adaptable, it thrives around all kinds of waters from subtropical mangrove swamps to desert rivers to the coastline of southern Alaska. With its variable diet it is able to spend the winter farther north than most herons, even in areas where most waters freeze. A form in southern Florida (called “Great White Heron”) is slightly larger and entirely white.


4-7 pounds


3.5 - 4.5 feet

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Shorelines, river banks, and the edges of marshes, estuaries, and ponds across much of the U.S.  Great Blue Herons also feed in meadows, farmland, and other open fields. Some colonies or “heronries” are found near developed areas; look for the herons’ bulky stick nests high in trees (a good example of this is located on Rt. 121, just north and across the street from the Bedford Post Inn, before you reach the Rt. 137 intersection).

Life Cycle

The oldest recorded Great Blue Heron was found in Texas when it was at least 24 years, 6 months old.

Ecosystem Connections

Great Blue Herons in the northeastern U.S. and southern Canada have benefited from the recovery of beaver populations, which have created a patchwork of swamps and meadows well-suited to foraging and nesting.

Did You Know?

Despite their impressive size, Great Blue Herons weigh only 5 to 6 pounds thanks in part to their hollow bones—a feature all birds share.

Similar Species

The “great white heron” could be confused with great egret, but is larger, with yellow legs as opposed to the great egret’s black legs. The reddish egret (Egretta rufescens) and little blue heron (Egretta caerulea) could be mistaken for the great blue heron, but are much smaller, and lack white on the head and yellow in the bill. More superficially similar is the slightly smaller grey heron, which may sometimes vagrate to the northern coasts of North America. The grey heron (which occupies the same ecological niche in Eurasia as the great blue heron) has very similar plumage, but has a solidly soft-gray neck. Erroneously, the great blue heron is sometimes referred to as a “crane”. A heron is differentiable from a crane in flight. The crane’s neck is straight and the heron’s is always curved.

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