Heron, common name for members of a family of tall wading birds, found in wet areas (a few species in upland grassy areas) in all temperate and tropical parts of the world. Included among the herons are several groups of birds more commonly known as bitterns, boatbills, and egrets.

Herons have elongated necks

Herons have elongated necks, legs, and bills. The unrelated cranes, which somewhat resemble the larger herons, fly with their necks extended; herons fly with their necks bent in an S shape, with their heads supported between their shoulders. The bills of herons are sharp edged and pointed. Herons have four long-clawed toes on each foot, three of which are directed forward, and the fourth, backward. The claw on the middle of the forward toes has a rough, comblike inner margin that is used by the heron in preening its soft plumage.

Reproduction and Diet

During the breeding season many herons

During the breeding season many herons wear elongated plumes, variously on the head, back, or breast. The birds mate and nest in large groups known as heronries. Most species construct their loose, flat, platform-style nests high in the branches of swamp trees. Notable exceptions are the bitterns, which are solitary rather than colonial and place their nests among reeds on the ground. Two to six pale blue eggs are laid in a clutch. Many types of herons breed in the Americas.

Most herons feed on aquatic animal life

Most herons feed on aquatic animal life, but some eat insects and even mice. Most species do not stalk their prey but, waiting in shallow water or on land, spear it with their long bills.

Types of Herons

One of the best-known herons is the great

One of the best-known herons is the great blue heron, which is widely distributed in North America and winters as far south as northern South America. This bird is about 117 cm (about 46 in) long and has a wingspan of about 1.8 m (about 6 ft). Above, it is bluish gray; the belly is black. Its head is white, with a black stripe along the sides of the crown; in the breeding season this stripe extends to elongated black plumes. The neck is gray, with a central line of black spots down the front edge. The bill is dull yellowish and the legs and feet are blackish. An all-white, egretlike color phase called the great white heron occurs in Florida and the Caribbean.

The gray heron is widely distributed in

The gray heron is widely distributed in Eurasia. It closely resembles the great blue heron but is smaller (about 91 cmabout 36 in) and paler in color. Even more widely distributed is the green heron, which has many subspecies in Eurasia as well as in the Americas. The North American subspecies are about 46 cm (about 18 in) long, with shiny dark green backs mixed with bluish gray; deep chestnut face and neck; white belly; and greenish-black crown feathers, which can be erected into a shaggy crest.

The night herons form a nearly worldwide

The night herons form a nearly worldwide group of large-eyed nocturnal herons. Two occur in the Americas, the black-crowned night heron and the more tropical yellow-crowned night heron.

"`Scientific classification:"` Herons

"`Scientific classification:"` Herons belong to the family Ardeidae. The great blue heron is classified as "Ardea herodias," the gray heron as "Ardea cinerea," and the green heron as "Butorides virescens." The black-crowned night heron is classified as "Nycticorax nycticorax" and the yellow-crowned night heron as "Nyctanassa violacea."

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