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.

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."


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.


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


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


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

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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

See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.

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Songs and Calls

Guttural croaks and squawks.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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