Great Blue Heron


Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

The Great Blue Heron is a majestic bird that you may have noticed in shallow waters, standing as still as a statue, stealthily searching for food. The Great Blue Heron is the largest and most widely distributed heron in Canada. It holds the record for the largest wading bird in North America.

Photo by Doris May

Photo by Doris May

Why they Matter to Us

Great Blue Herons

  • majestic birds that are fascinating to watch
  • they spark the interest of many birders and wildlife photographers
  • important members of healthy, freshwater ecosystems 
  • help control fish and insect populations in many different habitats

How You Can Help

  • Sponsor a Great Blue Heron to help EALT protect important heron habitat. 
    • Our Pipestone Creek and Glory Hills properties are adjacent to Great Blue Heron colonies. Our lands conserve important heron feeding grounds such as a creek, ox bow lake, lake, and small wetland. 
  • Do not disturb a rookery. Great Blue Herons return to the same nest sites year after year, so it is very important that heron nests are not disturbed.
  • Help keep your watershed healthy! We all live in a watershed and what we do in our very own yards has an impact on wetlands and waterways nearby.
    • Wash your car at a carwash or use biodegradable soap. Many people do not realize that our storm water systems (catch basins and gutters along paved streets) redirect UNTREATED water to the river or a nearby wetland.
    • Follow directions precisely when applying fertilizers or pesticides to your lawn. Make sure the weather forecast is not calling for rain when you apply chemicals as they will just get washed away, wasting your money and polluting the Great Blue Heron’s feeding grounds.
  • If you have a backyard fish pond don’t be surprised if a Great Blue Heron shows up for breakfast. 
    • To deter Great Blue Herons from eating your expensive pond fish, install a decoy heron (which makes for a beautiful yard decoration) next to your pond. Although herons flock on large feeding grounds, they will not share a small pond. 
    • Providing hiding places for your fish or covering the pond with netting will also protect your fish from being eaten.

How to Identify

Identify by Sight

To identify a Great Blue Heron, look for these distinguishing features:

Photo by Doris May

Photo by Doris May

Photo by Betty Fisher

Photo by Betty Fisher

Identify in Flight

To identify a Great Blue Heron in flight watch for these key features:

In Flight by Mike May

In Flight by Mike May

  • long neck tucked tightly in an S-shape
  • rounded wings flap in slow, deep beats
  • legs trail behind, long past their tail
  • wing span is 182 cm (6 feet)

Identify by Sound

Great Blue Herons have a number of different calls to communicate with each other. Their calls range from honks, which are like a high-pitched funny sounding goose, to croaks, which sound like an unimaginable ferocious dinosaur. Young herons begging for food sound like a ticking clock that will persist until their hungry mouths are satisfied.

  • Click here to listen to the many sounds of a Great Blue Heron

Where to find

Great Blue Herons are found in every Natural Region in the province, but are less common in the northern parts of Alberta. Herons can be found in meadows or in open shallow water at the edges of lakes, streams, rivers, ponds, sloughs, ditches, marshes, and mudflats. Look in these areas for a tall slender figure - herons stay statue still for great lengths of time while searching for food, making them difficult to spot.

Great Blue Herons are migratory birds. Herons arrive in Alberta in late March to early April and fly south in October to early November. A few Great Blue Herons have been spotted overwintering in the Calgary area, near Medicine Hat and Lethbridge, although the majority overwinter in southern USA, Mexico, or even as far south as the Caribbean.

Social Life

  • Great Blue Herons are lone hunters but will flock on large feeding grounds.
  • Nest in colonies, also called rookeries or heronries.
Perched Heron by Doris May

Perched Heron by Doris May

Fishing by Doris May

Fishing by Doris May

Food Chain

  • Food: fish, frogs, salamanders, water snakes, large insects, mice, small birds or even plant seeds.
  • Predators: eagles, bears, raccoons, vultures, and hawks prey on the young birds and sometimes even the adults.

Fun Facts

  • The oldest known Great Blue Heron was 24 years old.
  • Great Blue Herons benefit from Beavers’ engineering skills. Beavers stop the flow of water by building a dam which creates a pond. This can eventually lead to the creation of a meadow. These ponds and meadows are prime feeding grounds for Great Blue Herons.
  • There is a ‘Great White Heron,’ an all-white subspecies of the Great Blue Heron. The Great White Heron is found only in coastal areas of southern Florida.

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