Herons

Figure 1. Great egrets (Ardea alba). Photo by Steve Hillebrand, USFWS.  

Identification

Herons are a sub-group of wading birds. Many species of herons, particularly when in their white phase, can be difficult to identify. In some cases, identification is confirmed by their stalking behavior. All herons, however, have long necks and elongated and pointed beaks for impaling prey.  

Legal Status

All fish-eating birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (16 USC 703-712) and state laws. Lethal control is not allowed without a permit. Permits to use limited lethal action against depredating birds may be granted, but only after nonlethal techniques have been used correctly, and after qualified USDA-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service-Wildlife Services (WS) personnel verify that lethal methods are necessary. A permit is not needed to physically or mechanically exclude any fish-eating bird from raceways or water impoundments. Except for threatened or endangered species such as the bald eagle, a permit is not required to scare fish-eating birds. 

Physical Description

The body length of herons varies from 11 to 38 inches and wingspan from 25 to 70 inches. They have long legs and toes, large wings, and corresponding short tails. Plumage varies from all white, brown, gray, or blue; or patterns of stripes and streaks. 

Species Range

Herons and other fish predating birds occur throughout most of the continental US. 

Voices and Sounds

Great blue heron calls during flight sound like “fraaahnk” or “braak.” When aggressive, they utter a low series of “fraank, fraank, taaaw, taaaw.” Great egrets say “kroow” or “karrr.”

Tracks and Signs

Tracks of herons have three toes pointing forward and one toe pointing backward.