Photo: Frank and Sandra Horvath/Great Backyard Bird Count Participant

Tricolored Heron

Egretta tricolor

On the southeastern coastal plain, the Tricolored Heron is a characteristic bird of quiet shallow waters. Strikingly slender, with long bill, neck, and legs, it is often seen wading belly-deep in coastal lagoons. Although it is solitary in its feeding, it is sociable in nesting, often in very large colonies with various other herons and egrets. Formerly known as Louisiana Heron.
Conservation status Despite some reported local declines, still very common in parts of southeast, and has expanded range northward during the 20th century. In recent decades has nested at many new localities farther north and inland.
Family Herons, Egrets, Bitterns
Habitat Marshes, swamps, streams, shores. Mainly in waters of coastal lowlands. In breeding season usually near salt water, on shallow, sheltered estuaries and bays, tidal marshes, mangrove swamps. Also locally inland around freshwater marshes, lakes, rivers. Nests in colonies in trees, mangroves, or scrub near water.
On the southeastern coastal plain, the Tricolored Heron is a characteristic bird of quiet shallow waters. Strikingly slender, with long bill, neck, and legs, it is often seen wading belly-deep in coastal lagoons. Although it is solitary in its feeding, it is sociable in nesting, often in very large colonies with various other herons and egrets. Formerly known as Louisiana Heron.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • juvenile
  • adult, breeding
Feeding Behavior

Forages in shallow water by standing still and waiting for prey to approach, or by walking very slowly; sometimes more active, stirring bottom sediments with one foot, or dashing in pursuit of schools of fish. Solitary in foraging, driving away others from small "feeding territory."


Eggs

3-4, sometimes 2-7. Pale blue-green. Incubation is by both sexes, 21-25 days. Young: Both parents feed young. Young may begin climbing about near nest at age of 3 weeks, able to fly at about 5 weeks.


Young

Both parents feed young. Young may begin climbing about near nest at age of 3 weeks, able to fly at about 5 weeks.

Diet

Mostly fish. Eats mainly small fish of no economic value, also crustaceans (crayfish, prawns), insects (aquatic insects and grasshoppers), tadpoles, frogs, salamanders, lizards, spiders.


Nesting

Breeds in colonies, often with other species of wading birds. Male selects site within colony and displays there to attract mate. Displays include neck stretching, deep bowing, circular display flights. Nest: Site depends on colony location, which may be in trees, mangroves, willows, thickets of dry scrub, sometimes on ground; nest usually 2-10' above ground, sometimes up to 30'. Nest (built mostly by female, with materials gathered by male) is a platform of sticks, with a shallow depression at center, lined with finer twigs and grasses.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Northward wandering after breeding not as pronounced as in some southern herons, but has strayed far to the north on occasion. Withdraws in winter from northernmost breeding areas, with some migrating far south; birds banded in South Carolina recovered in Cuba and Panama. Common all winter in south Florida and parts of Gulf Coast, where some are probably permanent residents.

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Migration

Northward wandering after breeding not as pronounced as in some southern herons, but has strayed far to the north on occasion. Withdraws in winter from northernmost breeding areas, with some migrating far south; birds banded in South Carolina recovered in Cuba and Panama. Common all winter in south Florida and parts of Gulf Coast, where some are probably permanent residents.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Guttural croaks and squawks.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Herons, Egrets, Bitterns Long-legged Waders

Tricolored Heron

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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