The grey heron is a tall long-legged birds that is found near water standing still as a statue, often on one leg, with its neck stretched out or hunched over with its head buried in its chest. They fly slowly with their necks retracted sometimes gliding for short distances.
Scientific name: Ardea cinerea
Status: Resident breeding species and winter migrant
Breeding birds: 13,000 nests
Wintering birds: 63,000
Conservation status: Green
Length: 90 – 98 cm
Wingspan: 175 – 195 cm
Weight: 1010 – 2080 g
During breeding season adult grey herons have grey upperparts with long paler feathers on the scapulars. Their flight feathers are black and their underparts are whiter. They have a white neck which is streaked with black and longer white feathers on the breast.
Their head, crown, cheeks and chin are white and they have a broad black stripe that runs from the eyes to the nape. The long, dagger like bill is orange, they have yellow eyes and dark pink legs and feet.
In non-breeding plumage grey herons are slightly duller and they don’t have the long feathers on the scapulars. The bill is yellow and the legs and feet are yellow-brown.
Male and female grey herons look similar but the female has shorter aigrets.
Juveniles are greyer without the darker markings on the head and breast. Their legs are dull brown and their bill has a grey upper mandible and yellow lower mandible.
Grey herons breed in colonies sometimes with other species of birds. They build their nests in tall trees, reedbeds of bushes. The nest is a platform made of sticks and reeds lined with twigs and grasses. Males bring the building materials to the female who constructs the nest.
Grey herons lay up to 10 white or pale blue eggs. Both parents incubate the eggs for 25 days. Chicks are altricial and covered in grey down. They are fed by both parents by regurgitation. They fledge 50 days after hatching but remain at the nest for a further 10-20 days.
Grey herons mainly eat fish but will also take amphibians, crustaceans as well as small birds and mammals such as ducklings and voles. During harvest grey herons can sometimes be seen in fields looking for rodents.
Where to see them
Grey herons can be seen all year round wherever there is water including park ponds, rivers, estuaries and lakes. They will also visit garden ponds.
Did you know?
During medieval times it was believed that the fat of a grey heron killed at full moon was a cure for rheumatism.