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Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)


Great Blue Heron

Ardea herodias

(Order Ciconiiformes; Family Ardeidae)

Ardea herodias (Photograph by Jessie Stark)

(Kansas: Sedgwick County.  Great Plains Nature Center, in pond just north of Nature Center building.  July 13, 2012). 

Ardea herodeas in flight (Photo by Greg Harp).



Juvenile Ardea herodias.




Diagnosis: Distinctive as the largest heron species in Kansas, Great Blue Herons reach an average length of 1.2 m with a wingspan of 1.8 m. As implied by its name, the Great Blue Heron has blue-gray plumage with a mostly white head. There is a wide stripe of black over the eye leading to two slender black plumes at the back of the head. These plumes are dropped after the young are hatched each year. The bill is long and sharp and the upper portion changes coloration seasonally. The lower portion is always yellow. Males and females are similar, with males being slightly larger. Juveniles have a similar appearance to adults, but their coloration is more grayish, lacking the bluish tint of adulthood.


Natural History: The Great Blue Heron has a unique, slow wing beat and flies with its long neck folded back against the chest in an s-shape. They hunt by standing motionless in the water or slowly stalking through the water before catching their prey with a swift, stabbing motion. They tend to feed alone during the morning and evening and will quickly fly away when startled. Injured herons can be dangerous as they tend to stab at the eyes when cornered. They are solitary, but breed in colonies near bodies of water. During the breeding season, mated pairs are exclusive and share duties from nest-building to rearing of young. They lay eggs in March or April after building large (~1 m) nests out of sticks placed at the ends of tree branches, generally in cottonwood or sycamore. Young herons leave the nest after learning to fly. Great Blue Herons can be found in Kansas year-round, but most migrate south for the winter during October and November and return in February and March.

Nests of Ardea herodias (left)


Young Ardea herodias (right)



Distribution: This species can be found throughout Kansas and is the most widespread heron in the state. They are commonly found at almost any stream or body of water. Their range extends from the Arctic regions of North America southward into South America, the Bermudas, the West Indies, and the Galapagos.

Distribution of Ardea herodias.  Map created by Cornell Lab of Ornithology (from:


Habitat: Great Blue Herons inhabit the edges of ponds, lakes, streams, and temporary bodies of water, even in urban areas. Nesting only occurs in areas with trees suitable for building and supporting their large nests.


Diet: Diet is primarily composed of fish, but they will feed upon any small animal, including frogs, mice, and crayfish.

Ardea herodias feeding on frog (left)


Ardea herodias feeding on fish (right)



Status: Species of least concern



Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) Fishing at Stanley Park in Vancouver, BC 15Apr2010



National Geographic Animals: Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias):


Animal Diversity Web.  Photo Gallery:


Seattle Audubon Society.  Bird Web: Great Blue Heron:


Wired Science.  Watch a Great Blue Heron Chick Hatch on Live Webcam:



Gress, B., P. Janzen. 2008. Kansas Birds and Birding Hot Spots. University Press of Kansas. Lawrence, KS.


Thompson, M., Ely, C. 1989. Birds in Kansas, Vol. 1. University Press of Kansas. Lawrence, KS.


Goss, N. 1891. History of the Birds of Kansas. Geo. W. Crane & Co. Topeka, KS.


Submitted by: Jessie Stark, July 2012

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