Birdwatching Tips – Herons, Egrets, Bitterns

Little Blue Heron at Lake Hollingsworth

Little Blue Heron at Lake Hollingsworth

Lev 11:19  And the stork, the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat.

Peterson’s Field Guide Videos have great information about how to identify birds in the Heron, Egrets and Bittern Family. This is a very good video.


See the other video in this series:

Peterson Field Guide-Videos


Ardeidae- Herons, Bitterns

Birds of the Bible – Herons

Wordless Birds


Birds of the Bible – Herons On Tampa Bay

Reddish, Snowys, Greats Egrets and Great Blue Heron 5-10-13 by Lee at MacDill

Reddish, Snowys, Greats Egrets and Great Blue Heron (5-10-13) by Lee

And the stork, the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat. (Leviticus 11:19 KJV)

Herons are one of the species listed on the “Do not eat list” as we have written about before in the various Birds of the Bible – Heron articles. The first one was written back in 2008 when I first started the blog.

Since we were out birdwatching last week over in Tampa at the bay, I thought I would share some of those photos and update the Heron information some more. We saw a Great Blue Heron, several Little Blue Herons, and several others that are “after her kind” and in the same Ardeidae – Heron, Bittern  family. There were Snowy Egrets and Great Egrets fishing along with the others. The Little Blue Herons were in breeding plumage which you could tell because of their exceptionally blue beaks. (Not real clear-I was zoomed from quite a distance)

Little Blue Heron and Snowy Egrets by Lee from distance

Little Blue Heron and Snowy Egrets by Lee from distance

Herons are only mentioned twice in Scripture; Leviticus 11:19 and in Deuteronomy 14:18. That modern-day family, Ardiedae, currently has 72 members which includes not only Herons and Egrets, but also Bitterns. Some of them are grouped together like, Tiger Herons, Night Herons, Pond Herons, Reef Herons and Cattle Egrets. Not sure about the Tiger Herons but the night, pond, reef, and cattle name give you a clue as to where you might find them out and about.

And the stork, and the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat. (Deuteronomy 14:18 KJV)

The herons are long-legged freshwater and coastal birds in the family Ardeidae, (some are called “egrets” or “bitterns” instead of “heron”). Within Ardeidae, all members of the genera Botaurus and Ixobrychus are referred to as “bitterns”, and — including the Zigzag Heron or Zigzag Bittern — are a monophyletic group within the Ardeidae. However, egrets are not a biologically distinct group from the herons, and tend to be named differently because they are mainly white and/or have decorative plumes. Although egrets have the same build as herons, they tend to be smaller.

Great Egret (Ardea alba) Swallowing MacDil by Lee

Great Egret (Ardea alba) Swallowing by Lee

The classification of the individual heron/egret species is fraught with difficulty, and there is still no clear consensus about the correct placement of many species into either of the two major genera, Ardea and Egretta. Similarly, the relationship of the genera in the family is not completely resolved. However, one species formerly considered to constitute a separate monotypic family Cochlearidae, the Boat-billed Heron, is now regarded as a member of the Ardeidae.

Although herons resemble birds in some other families, such as the storks, ibises, spoonbills and cranes, they differ from these in flying with their necks retracted, not outstretched. They are also one of the bird groups that have powder down. Some members of this group nest colonially in trees, while others, notably the bitterns, use reedbeds.

The largest species of heron is the Goliath Heron, which stand up to 152 cm (60 in) tall. The necks are able to kink in an s-shape, due to the modified shape of the sixth vertebrae. The neck is able to retract and extend, and is retracted during flight, unlike most other long-necked birds. The neck is longer in the day herons than the night herons and bitterns. The legs are long and strong and in almost every species are unfeathered from the lower part of the tibia (the exception is the Zigzag Heron). In flight the legs and feet are held backward. The feet of herons have long thin toes, with three forward pointing ones and one going backward.

Reddish-Snowys-Greats Egrets -Great Blue Heron by Lee

Reddish-Snowys-Greats Egrets – Snowy in front with yellow feet

The herons are a widespread family with a cosmopolitan distribution. They exist on all continents except Antarctica, and are present in most habitats except the coldest extremes of the Arctic, extremely high mountains and the driest deserts. Almost all species are associated with water, they are essentially non-swimming waterbirds that feed on the margins of lakes, rivers, swamps, ponds and the sea. They are predominately found in lowland areas, although some species live in alpine areas, and the majority of species occur in the tropics.

While the family exhibits a range of breeding strategies, overall the herons are monogamous and mostly colonial. Most day-herons and night-herons are colonial, or partly colonial depending on circumstances, whereas the bitterns and tiger-herons are mostly solitary nesters. Colonies may contain several species as well as other types of waterbird. In a study of Little Egrets and Cattle Egrets in India the majority of the colonies surveyed contained both species. (Wikipedia with editing)


Birds of the Bible

Birds of the Bible – Heron – Page

Bible Birds – Herons [younger readers]

Birds of the Bible – Herons – Article

Heron – Wikipedia

Ardeidae – Heron, Bitterns  family