Heron, a wading bird. There are about 60 kinds of herons, including egrets and bitterns. Herons have long legs and bodies, long necks, and long, sharp bills. The plumage may be white, brown, grayish, or black. The birds live near water, feeding chiefly on fish, frogs, and crayfish. Their nests, made of sticks, are built in trees in colonies called heronries, or rookeries. Herons fly slowly, with their legs trailing straight behind.

Herons are found throughout the world. The great blue heron, an American species, is grayish-blue, stands four feet (1.2 m) high, and has a six-foot (1.8-m) wingspread. color page of water and shore birds; Egg, color page.) It ranges from southern Canada to Panama. Some individuals of this species have pure-white plumage and are called great white herons.

HeronsHerons have long, sharp bills to catch their diet of fish, frogs, and crayfish.

The great blue heron is Ardea herodias of the family Ardeidae.

Why Do Herons and Egrets Change “Clothes”?

Many members of the heron family, which includes egrets, grow new feathers during the breeding season. Other members have legs and bills that change color. And, still others have feathers, legs, and bills that all change. These changes start happening before the mating season. Birds of both sexes grow showy feathers called breeding plumage and change colors to attract mates.

A small heron called the squacco heron sprouts long, fluffy black-and-white feathers all around its head and neck as breeding plumage. The agami heron of South America grows light blue, ribbonlike feathers on its head and gray-blue plumes on its back. Great egrets grow large, beautiful, lacy feathers from their heads, necks, and backs. The cattle egret’s white body feathers get pale tan highlights, and its legs and bill turn from yellow to a bright orange color. But the new “clothes” do not last for long. After the young are raised, the parents’ showy plumes drop off and are replaced by regular plumage. Their legs and bills turn back to their original color, as well.

Who Hunts Under A “Tent”?

The black heron of Africa has an unusual way of hunting. It crouches in the water and raises its wings over its head to make a kind of tent. From under its raised wings, it peers down into the water and grabs and eats its prey.

No one knows exactly how this behavior helps the black heron catch fish. Perhaps the fish swim toward the shade created by the heron’s wings because it looks like a safe place to hide. Or, maybe the “tent” pose makes it harder for fish to recognize the heron as an enemy. Another possibility is that the raised wings lessen the glare from the sun off the water’s surface, which helps the heron see its prey more clearly under the water.

Which Large Wading Birds Are Active At Night?

Most large wading birds are active during the day. But a few types hunt and feed at night. When other birds are settling in for a good night’s sleep, these birds are just waking up. You might call these birds “night owls.”

During the evening and night, the black-crowned night heron crouches along the edge of the water and lunges for fish, frogs, and water insects. It also eats the eggs and chicks of other water birds. Night herons have large eyes and good night vision.

The boat-billed heron is also active at night. It has even larger eyes than the night heron. It sometimes uses its huge bill to scoop up prey from the water.

Which Birds Are Willing to Stick Out Their Necks to Fly?

When herons fly, they fly with their long legs extended behind them, but with their head tucked between their shoulders. Their long neck bends into an “S” shape, so their head is close to their body.

The shoebill also flies with its head close to its body. But, other ciconiiforms fly with their neck extended. Ibises fly this way. Storks also fly with their neck extended.

Because certain storks and herons can look alike, checking for the position of the head and neck when these birds are in flight is a good way to tell them apart.