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What is a Grey Heron?

J. Leach
J. Leach

A grey heron, or Ardea cinerea, is a tall wading bird from the heron family, Ardeidae. The bird is native to Asia, Europe, and parts of Africa, and it prefers mild, temperate climates. It can be been found in areas that experience cold winters, but the bird will migrate to a warmer climate once the temperature starts to drop. Birds that live in more temperate climates tend not to migrate. They can be found in any area, including an urban one, that has a lake, pond, or estuary.

An adult grey heron stands about three ft (about 90 cm) tall. It has a wingspan of about six ft (about 195 cm) and slender, long legs with a long, thin neck. The neck and body resemble an S-shape. The plumage of the bird is mostly grey, but the head usually has white and black markings on it. Its bill and legs are a yellowish color, which intensifies to an orange shade during breeding season.


These birds usually start building their nests from twigs in early February. Mating season can last from January to May, depending on the location. The nests are often close to a body of water, like a lake. The grey heron lays an average of three eggs — and the most it has been known to lay is six.

It takes the chicks about 27 days to hatch. The fledglings leave the nest after seven weeks, and are no longer dependent on the parents. The birds often join colonies with other grey heron, and some colonies can have thousands of pairs. The birds can live to be more than 20 years old.

For food, the grey heron wades out into shallow water looking for prey. The bird will either slowly stalk its prey, or it will stand motionless waiting for its prey to come towards it. It prefers to eat small fish, insects, small mammals, and amphibians but, on rare occasions, it may eat the chicks of other bird species.

The grey heron’s biggest threat is man. Human encroachment on its habitat has destroyed some bird colonies, and many birds are poisoned by contaminated food or killed by electrical lines due to their close proximity to towns. It is sometimes harmed by communities to protect fish resources. For example, fisherman sometimes believe that the birds threaten their harvest, so they hunt them. Some fish farmers also may view the bird as a pest and may exterminate any birds that try to feed on the fish they are raising.

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