Today we continue our exploration of the heron tribe by taking a look at the Little Blue Heron. A smallish heron, this bird is typically found in freshwater lakes, ponds and waterways, but also strays into salt marshes and estuaries. While not as ubiquitous and typically not as gregarious as its larger cousin, I wonder who decided which one should be given the title “great?”
These quiet little wading birds inhabit most of the eastern half of the US, as well as most of Central America and part of South America as well. They tend to associate with other herons, feeding on fish, crustaceans and insects as they pick their way methodically along the shorelines of waterways and marshes.
With their coloration, these herons are easy to overlook; often while scanning a canal, river or lake shore, you won’t see them at first – then suddenly there is one, no – two, no – three or more of them hidden in the weeds at the water’s edge.
As mentioned, this heron is smaller than its “great” cousin, standing only about 2 feet (60cm) tall. Its wingspan can reach a little over 3 feet (40 cm). Its color is a dull slate grey-blue, with a slight reddish or purplish hue on its head and neck. Note also the dark grey bill, and grey legs.
This heron is somewhat unique in that the juveniles are generally completely white. This allows them to mingle with snowy egret flocks and blend in (a safety feature!) but sometimes makes for a difficult identification. Again, note the bill and leg colors, which are diagnostic when compared with any of the white egrets.
The adult bird is easy to confuse with the reddish egret, which we’ll review here in a future column. The reddish egret has a much redder head and neck, with more wispy plumage, and the bill and legs are distinctive; very black compared to the dark gray of the little blue heron. It is also easy to confuse the little blue with the Louisiana heron, which we’ll look at in detail next week. However, the Louisiana, or Tri-color heron, has quite a bit of white color on the breast and neck. So remember, if the heron is almost a uniform grey/blue, with a slightly reddish/purplish head and neck, and no other colors, you’re likely to be looking at the Little Blue Heron.
The Little Blue Heron is less common than its Great Blue cousin. This variety, because of its lack of a showy plume, escaped being the feather hunters’ targets; however, now it faces the bigger danger or population decline throughout much of its range due to loss of habitat and pollution.
Next week: the Louisiana Heron!