Grey Heron

Ardea cinerea

90-98cm

Appearance

A large, common wetland bird with a long neck and long, yellowish-grey legs. It has a long pointed bill which is yellow unless in breeding season, when it gains a reddish tone. Adults have a light grey head, flecked with white; the crown is black, punctuated by a white centre from which there's a fine black crest. The neck is whitish with black streaks, the upperwings and back are bluish-grey, the flight feathers are black and the underparts are whitish. Juvenile birds have a dark grey crown and forehead and are greyer than the adult; they have not yet acquired the crest at the nape.

Habitat

A common resident found throughout Britain and Ireland except in higher territories. Tends towards the edges of rivers, marshes or estuaries, and usually creates nests in trees.

Character

Most often in its own company, but does occasionally form groups and is a colonial nester. Has a habit of standing huddled up with its head sitting between its shoulders. May stand still for long periods of time as it waits for prey to come within striking distance, and it often stands on one leg. When flying its neck bulges out, its head is tucked in and its feet dangle beyond the tail. The crest at its crown lifts when displaying.

Food

Diet consists mostly of fish including freshwater species such as roach, perch and sticklebacks. Salt water prey includes eels, flounders, wrasse and crabs, and this bird also eats small mammals, birds, amphibians and insect larvae.

Breeding

One trees often forms the foundation of several nests. Females lay 3 or 4 eggs which are incubated by both parents for 25-27 days. Young leave the nest to nearby branches after about 20-30 days, but they don't fly until they're approximately 50 days old.

Population

Some British birds make it to Ireland, and others have been known to head to the Netherlands, France, and Spain, though the British population are not generally migratory; some European birds can migrate long-distance (they've been known to cross the Sahara). British numbers are boosted in winter, particularly around the east, by an influx of birds from northern Europe. 2011 population numbers were 13 316 pairs in the UK and up to 10 000 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

Quite common at most wetland reserves, and they may even be found in urban settings if parks have abundant fish populations.

Voice

When flying it may make a 'kaark' call, and it has a rang of croaky calls when nesting.
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