Little Blue Heron

 

Common name: Little Blue Heron
Class: Aves
Order: Ciconiiformes
Family: Ardeidae
Genus: Egretta
Species: Egretta caerulea

photo Michael Noonan


Taxonomy/Description


Little Blue Herons are in the family Ardeidae which consists of other herons. The Little Blue Heron is a small, dark bird that ranges from 63 to 74 centimeters in length. It can have a wingspread of up to 1.04 meters and weigh about 396 grams. The sexes of this species are similar in appearance, but the young look very different from the adults. An adult can be recognized by its purple-maroon colored head and neck. The rest of a Little Blue Heronís feathers are a slate gray. In addition, the Little Blue Heron has a long neck that is usually held in an "S" shaped curve while the bird is at rest or in flight. This heron also has a long, slender bill that curves slightly downward and it pointed at the tip. The bill is also dark gray in color and black at the tip. Its eyes are yellow and the legs and feet are dark.


Habitat/Diet


The Little Blue Heron can be found along the Atlantic coast from Massachusetts to Florida, but is most abundant along the Gulf of Mexico. Its range also extends into the Amazon Basin, the Caribbean, and the more northern regions of North America as far as the border between the US and Canada. Little Blue Herons do not often live near saltwater and are mainly inland birds. They prefer freshwater areas such as ponds, lakes, marshes, swamps, and lagoons, but also sometimes occupy flooded and dry grasslands, or marine coastlines. The Little Blue Heron feeds mainly during the daylight hours. They are a carnivorous bird, with their diet consisting of fish, frogs, lizards, snakes, turtles, and crustaceans such as fiddler crabs, crayfish and shrimp. In addition, they also eat aquatic insects and spiders. When swamps and marshes become dry, they live on grasshhoppers, crickets, beetles and other grassland insects.

 

photo Michael Noonan
 

Behavior/Reproduction


The Little Blue Heron's long legs enable it to wade into the water, where it walks slowly along an area in order to locate prey, often retracing its steps or standing motionless. They sometimes rake the ground with their foot to disturb prey into movement and stretch their long necks to peer into the water. Their long beak is used to jab and eat the prey. Prior to mating, males stretch their necks upward with the bill pointing up, and then assume a crouched posture. Their movements include bill snapping, vocalizing, and neck swaying. If a female is impressed, she will approach him. The male will then gathers sticks to present to the female, raising his plumes and nibbling her feathers as she places the sticks into a nest structure. This flimsy nest is usually built up to 3-4.5 meters above the ground or water, but can be as high as 12 meters.


The pale, blue-green eggs of the Little Blue Heron are laid in April. They can lay from 3-5 eggs, but on average lay 4-5. This process takes 5-8 days, with one egg being laid every other day. Both the male and female Little Blue Herons incubate the eggs, until they hatch in 22-24 days. Little Blue Heron chicks are unlike any other heron because they have all white body plumage. They have a blue bill with a black tip and dull green legs. They stay white through their first summer, fall, and into winter, but start molting in February into the dark color of an adult. Both parents then take on the responsibility of feeding the chicks. When the chicks are about 30 days old, they are able to fly and periodically leave the nest area. Finally, at 42-49 days, the young are ready to live on their own. Little Blue Herons can breed when they are one year old. 
 

 

photo Michael Noonan
 


Where to see them in WNY


Oneís best chance at seeing a Little blue heron is on the Swallow Hollow Trail at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. From the parking lot, take the trail heading to the left. Be sure to begin looking once you reach the earthen dike; emergent marshes like this one are great habitats for these birds.

 

CAC is a program of the Institute for the Study of Human-Animal Relations at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY.