Grey Heron

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Image:Greyheron.jpg

Common Name: Grey Heron
Scientific Name: Ardea cinerea

Size: 36-39½ inches (90-100 cm)

Habitat: Europe, Asia & Africa; throughout temperate Europe and Asia and also parts of Africa. Prefers habitat is shallow water, relatively large prey, and four or five months of ice-free breeding.

Status: Least Concern. Global population: 790,000 - 3,700,000. In Europe the species was heavily persecuted in the nineteenth century due to its consumption of fish, which resulted in competition with fishermen and fish farmers. Although killing at aquaculture farms has not reduced the global population so far (possibly because it is young birds that are mostly killed), 800 herons are estimated to have died per year at Scottish fish-farms between 1984 and 1987, 5 by being shot, drowned or poisoned by fish farmers. Renewed hunting poses a threat to Bavarian populations by decreasing numbers to levels that inhibit recovery following severe winters (severe winters increase mortality rates for juveniles). The species is vulnerable in Madagascar owing to its restricted range, exceedingly high levels of habitat alteration (from siltation and the need for agricultural land for rice and grazing), hunting, and predation at nesting colonies. Timber harvesting is a threat throughout much of the species range by removing trees used by nesting colonies and/or disturbing nearby colonies. The species is also susceptible to avian influenza and avian botulism, so may be threatened by future outbreaks of these diseases. It is protected by the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA).

Diet: Fish, frogs, and insects with its long bill. Herons will also take small mammals (even small rabbits), reptiles and occasionally warbler nestlings, plovers, snipes, ducklings and tern chicks and other small birds.

Nesting: The species breeds January-May in the Palearctic region and in spring and summer in temperate areas, but mainly during the rains in Africa and the tropics (although here it may also breed in any month of the year). It breeds in mixed colonies of hundreds or thousands of pairs (the largest colony in Europe is 800-1,300 pairs), although it may also nest solitarily or in small groups of 2-10 nests. The nest is a stick platform that is often re-used over successive years, usually positioned high in a tall tree up to 50 m, but also on the ground or on cliff edges, in reed beds or in bushes. In reed-beds nests may be built of reeds, and ground nests may be reduced to a slight scrape, ringed with small stones and debris. The species commonly nests in colonies, and nesting sites are typically situated 2-38 km (convenient flying distance) from preferred feeding areas.

Cool Facts: The primary difference between the American Great Blue Heron and the Grey Heron (besides location) is the Grey’s smaller size and the lack of the chestnut brown tint to the neck, thigh and flank feathers.

The species is typically a solitary feeder but at abundant temporary food sources, or where available feeding areas are restricted, large congregations may occur. It feeds at any time day or night, but is most active at dawn or dusk, typically roosting communally or solitarily1 during the middle of the day and at night in trees and on cliffs, low rocks, islets or along shores. The call is a loud croaking "fraaank".


There are four subspecies:

  • Ardea cinerea cinerea. Linnaeus, 1758. Europe, Africa, western Asia
  • Ardea cinerea jouyi. Clark, 1907. Eastern Asia
  • Ardea cinerea firasa. Hartert, 1917. Madagascar
  • Ardea cinerea monicae. Jouanin & Roux, 1963. Islands off Banc d'Arguin, Mauritania.


Found in Songbird ReMix Shorebirds Volume II: Herons and Bitterns

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