Photo: Kurt Wecker/Audubon Photography Awards

Priority Bird

Little Blue Heron

Egretta caerulea

Despite its different last name, the Little Blue Heron is probably a close relative of the Snowy Egret. It looks much like a Snowy when it is young, but molts to a dark slate-blue plumage as an adult. Generally wary and hard to approach. Nests in colonies, sometimes of this species alone; in large mixed heronries, Little Blues tend to nest along the edges. Some of its largest colonies are in the lower Mississippi Valley, where it often nests in association with Cattle Egrets.
Conservation status Because of its dark plumage and lack of long plumes, this species was not a major target for the plume hunters that decimated the populations of most of the white egrets and herons in the late 1800s. During the 20th century, Little Blue Heron has extended its range northward and increased in population in many areas.
Family Herons, Egrets, Bitterns
Habitat Marshes, swamps, rice fields, ponds, shores. In North America most numerous on fresh waters inland, around river swamps and marshy lakes. Also feeds in wet meadows and even dry fields. Less commonly feeds in salt water, although it may favor such habitat in the Caribbean. Nests in trees or in dense low thickets near water.
Despite its different last name, the Little Blue Heron is probably a close relative of the Snowy Egret. It looks much like a Snowy when it is young, but molts to a dark slate-blue plumage as an adult. Generally wary and hard to approach. Nests in colonies, sometimes of this species alone; in large mixed heronries, Little Blues tend to nest along the edges. Some of its largest colonies are in the lower Mississippi Valley, where it often nests in association with Cattle Egrets.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • juvenile
  • immature (2nd yr)
  • immature (2nd yr)
Feeding Behavior

Usually slow and methodical in its foraging, walking very slowly in shallows or standing still waiting for prey to approach. May feed in shallow water or on shore, also in grassy fields.


Eggs

3-5, sometimes 1-6. Pale blue-green. Incubation is by both sexes, 20-23 days. Young: Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. Young may climb out of nest onto nearby branches after 2-3 weeks, are capable of short flights at 4 weeks, become independent at 6-7 weeks.


Young

Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. Young may climb out of nest onto nearby branches after 2-3 weeks, are capable of short flights at 4 weeks, become independent at 6-7 weeks.

Diet

Mainly fish and crustaceans. Diet quite variable. Eats mostly small fish (including larger ones than those favored by similar-sized Snowy Egret) and crustaceans, including crabs and crayfish. Away from water eats many grasshoppers and other insects. Other food items include tadpoles, frogs, lizards, snakes, turtles, spiders.


Nesting

Breeds in colonies. Male establishes small territory within colony and displays there, driving away other males. Displays by male include neck-stretching and bill-snapping; pairs in courtship may nibble at each other's plumage, and cross and intertwine necks. Nest: Site is in a tree or shrub, usually 3-15' above ground or water, sometimes up to 40' high. Nest (built by both sexes) is a platform of sticks, varying from flimsy to substantial, with depression in the center.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Migration

After nesting, adults and young disperse from colonies in all directions, including northward. Some may move well to the north in late summer before migrating south. Banding returns show that some migrate as far as South America, although some also remain in southeastern United States in winter.

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Migration

After nesting, adults and young disperse from colonies in all directions, including northward. Some may move well to the north in late summer before migrating south. Banding returns show that some migrate as far as South America, although some also remain in southeastern United States in winter.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Usually silent; squawks when alarmed. Various croaks and screams at nesting colonies.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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