Bird in Focus- Great Blue Heron
by Chris Showalter

Images by Tony Madden, Fernbank Science Center

The Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) is the largest and most widespread North American heron. The summer breeding range of this bird extends to southern Alaska and the winter range extends to northern South America. It is a resident bird in Georgia and can be found here all year.

Great Blue Herons require a body of water to hunt for fish. The size of the body of water varies greatly. Great Blue Herons can be found stalking prey at the edge of the ocean or a small koi pond. Indeed, many koi owners have regular battles with this bird as they try to protect their prized fish from becoming a heron's next meal.

There are five subspecies of the Great Blue Heron, and the plumages are highly variable. The most common plumage pattern is pictured to the left. This bird also has an all- white morph commonly referred to as the "Great White Heron" and a hybrid morph known as Wurdemann's Heron where the head and neck are white but the body is blue-gray.

The Great Blue Heron primarily eats fish however, it is adaptable and willing to eat other animals as well. Several studies have found that voles are a very important part of the diet, making up nearly half of what was fed to nestlings in Idaho. They are also know to eat shellfish, insects, frogs, salamanders, small reptiles, and even small birds!

Great Blue Herons breed in large colonies known as rookeries, sometimes referred to as a "heronry." The heronries can be quite large, often having well over 100 nests!


Butler, R. W. 1992. Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias). In The Birds of North America, no. 25. A. Poole, P. Stettenheim, and F. Gill, editors. The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia; The American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D.C.

Cornell University - All About Birds - Great Blue Heron. Retrieved 8.14.08.

Gough, G.A., Sauer, J.R., Iliff, M. Patuxent Bird Identification Infocenter. 1998. Version 97.1. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD. Retrieved 8.14.08.

Click here for the "Birds in Focus" archive