Basic Information

Scientific Name Ardea cinerea
Featured bird groups Shore birds
Phylum Chordata

Standing as still as a statue at water edge, exhibitionist enjoying the sun, fearsome dagger when a fish approaches, or wonderful bird with slow and quiet flight, the Grey Heron always amazes. And when the breeze plays through its slate-grey or bluish-coloured plumage, raising the long pale back feathers or the delicate black aigrette, it is the whole bird which seems to be carried along by the wind.  Closely related to the wetlands, the Grey heron is a character that arouses a great interest.  Grey Heron is a large bird with rather grey plumage. Adult in breeding plumage has grey upperparts with elongated paler feathers on scapulars. Flight feathers are black. The underparts are whitish. The white foreneck is streaked black. We can see white elongated feathers on the breast. On the head, crown, cheeks, chin and neck sides are white. A broad black stripe extends from the eyes to the nape and is prolonged by long black aigrets. Adult in non-breeding plumage is slightly duller. It lacks the long feathers on scapulars, breast and nape. The bill is rather yellow. Legs and feet are yellowish-brown. Both sexes are similar, but female has shorter aigrets. Juvenile is greyer, without black markings on head and breast. General plumage may be more or less dark. Legs are duller, mostly dark greyish-brown. The bill show grey upper mandible and yellowish lower mandible. 

Habitat

Grey Heron may live in several kinds of habitats with shallow fresh, brackish or salt water. It may be found in open areas, but it needs some trees for nesting. Inland, it is often seen near rivers, lakes, marshes and rice fields. Along the coast, it frequents estuaries, mangroves and tidal mudflats. It is usually seen from sea-level up to 500-1000 metres of elevation, but according to the range, it may be seen up to 2000 to 3500-4000 metres.    

Behaviour

Grey Heron, as many Ardeidae, may stay motionless during long time at water edge, waiting for prey. It is a passive feeder, standing on one leg, with neck sunk between shoulders.  
If alarmed, it stretches its neck, motionless and watchful, and may take off immediately. Grey Heron may also hunt in crouched posture, with body and neck parallel to the ground or the water. When the prey is close enough, it spears it with its bill. It also walks slowly in shallow water or at the edge, watching for preys. It may use its wings to frighten the prey by alternated open and close wings, or use them as an umbrella, in order to attract the prey into the shade, but also to reduce the light for better visibility. It also may use its feet, sinking one foot into the water or the mud in order to frighten the prey, or use the “foot-stirring” by vibrating one leg in the same way. Usually, the Grey Heron swallows its prey whole and head first, and the time is determined by the size of the prey.

Voice

Grey Heron’s voice is relatively unpleasant. It is a hard and high-pitched croaking “fraark” given in flight. This same call may be heard at nest, by day or night, with other guttural sounds “frauk-jauk-jauk-ak-ak”. We can also hear a very ringing croaking “kraoj”

Related Aves