8 Types of Herons in Texas

The lone heron stands motionless, partially concealed in vegetation along the water’s edge. Neck coiled and beak at the ready, it is the epitome of patience. When an unsuspecting fish swims near, the heron strikes with lightning speed, stabbing its sharp bill into the water to capture its prey. This graceful and elegant scene plays out across the diverse wetland habitats of Texas. The state is home to over 20 heron species, but a select few are commonly encountered and contribute special beauty to regional ecosystems. Prepare to explore some of the most distinctive and majestic herons found wading through Texas marshes, rivers, lakes and coastlines. Their bold colors, size, behaviors and habitats make each unique in the natural heritage of the Lone Star State.

Heron Species Size Habitat
Great Blue Heron Large – 4 ft tall Coasts, lakes, wetlands
Great Egret Large – over 3 ft tall Marshes, wetlands, coasts
Snowy Egret Medium – 2 ft tall Marshes, wetlands, coasts
Little Blue Heron Small – 2 ft tall Inland wetlands, coasts
Tricolored Heron Medium – 2 ft tall Fresh & saltwater wetlands
Reddish Egret Medium – 2 ft tall Coastal marshes, lagoons
Green Heron Small – 18 in tall Fresh & saltwater wetlands
Black-crowned Night Heron Medium – 2 ft tall Fresh & saltwater wetlands

1. Great Blue Heron

The great blue heron (Ardea herodias) is the largest and most widespread heron in North America. It is a common sight along the coasts, estuaries, freshwater lakes, and wetlands of Texas. These solitary birds stand about 4 feet tall with a wingspan of nearly 6 feet. Their plumage is overall grayish-blue, with a black stripe over the eyes that continues down the neck. Great blue herons have a long, sharp bill that helps them spear fish, their primary prey. While hunting, they stand motionless along shorelines or in shallow water waiting to ambush small fish with their dagger-like bill. Great blues nest together in colonies called heronries, often high up in trees near water. The nests are large platforms of sticks, lined with softer materials. Great blue herons lay 3-6 light blue eggs, with both parents taking turns incubating them for about a month before they hatch. These graceful birds sometimes migrate south for the winter if their feeding grounds freeze over. But they can be seen year-round along the Texas coast. Their loud, hoarse croaking call often gives away their presence before you spot these large birds patiently stalking the shallows.

2. Great Egret

With their bright white plumage, long black legs, and elegant posture, great egrets (Ardea alba) are a beautiful sight around wetlands across Texas. These large, slender herons stand over 3 feet tall and have a wingspan approaching 5 feet. They have a long, yellow bill for spearing fish and a graceful, S-shaped neck. Great egrets get their name from the decorative plumes that develop on their backs during breeding season. These delicate feathers were popular in women’s hats in the late 1800s, nearly driving the species to extinction before conservationists stepped in. Today, great egrets thrive across the southern half of the U.S. They are rather common along the Texas coastline but also inhabit marshes, ponds, and flooded fields further inland. Great egrets hunt by standing motionless in shallow water, waiting for fish and frogs to come near. They also prowl wetlands, stirring up prey with their feet. Breeding pairs build platform nests high up in trees near water. They lay 3-5 eggs and share parenting duties until the chicks fledge in about 2 months. These elegant marsh birds are a common sight across Texas and their majestic beauty makes them a favorite among birdwatchers.

3. Snowy Egret

Snowy egrets (Egretta thula) are elegant white marsh birds that are slightly smaller than great egrets. They stand about 2 feet tall and have bright yellow feet along with black legs and a thin black bill. Snowy egrets have wispy plumes on their backs, heads, and chests during breeding season. These beautiful herons are found along the Texas coast, although some migrate inland along wetlands and marshes during warmer months. Snowy egrets hunt for fish, crustaceans, insects, and frogs by walking slowly through shallow water and waiting to ambush prey. Their bright yellow feet help stir up and attract fish. They are social birds, often foraging and nesting in mixed colonies with other wading birds. Breeding pairs build platform nests in shrubs or trees near water. The female lays about 4 greenish-blue eggs. Both parents incubate them for around 3 weeks before the chicks hatch. Snowy egrets were also hunted for their plumes in the late 1800s but have rebounded well with protection. These graceful white herons are always a treat to see stalking through Texas wetlands, reflecting their glowing white plumage in the water below.

4. Little Blue Heron

The little blue heron (Egretta caerulea) is a small, elegant species found along marshy shorelines across the southern half of the U.S. As the name suggests, they have blue-gray feathers covering their body, although juvenile birds are all white. Little blue herons reach 2 feet tall with a 3 foot wingspan. They have slender black legs and a blue-black bill with a purplish tip. These sleek herons stalk through shallow wetlands looking for small fish, frogs, crustaceans and aquatic insects. Little blue herons are patient, solitary hunters. They stand motionless in shallow water or slowly walk through marshes, waiting to strike prey with their bills. They breed in colonies with other wading birds, building stick nests high up in shrubs or trees near water. Females lay an average of 3 pale blue eggs, with both parents taking turns at incubation and raising the chicks. Little blue herons are most common along the Texas coast and inland wetlands from March to October. Their range shifts further south during winter. These small, graceful herons are a joy to observe going about their hunting routines in Texas marshes and swamps.

5. Tricolored Heron

The tricolored heron (Egretta tricolor) is a sleek, medium-sized heron adorned in shades of blue and purple. Also known as Louisiana heron, they stand about 2 feet tall and have a wingspan reaching 3 feet. As their name suggests, tricolored herons have striking, three-tone plumage. Their head, neck, and back are dark slate blue. The belly is a rich purple-maroon, and the undersides of wings are white. They have yellow legs and a white stripe up the front of their tapered bill. Tricolored herons stalk shallow wetlands ranging from freshwater to brackish. They walk slowly while hunting, waiting to spear small fish, frogs, and crustaceans with their bill. Approachable and adaptable, these herons inhabit both inland and coastal marshes across the southern half of the U.S. They nest in colonies, often with other wading birds, building platform nests of sticks in shrubs or trees. The female lays 3-5 eggs, averaging around 2 chicks fledged per nest. Tricolored herons are strikingly beautiful and their varied blue, purple and white plumage makes them stand out as they feed along the shorelines of Texas wetlands.

6. Reddish Egret

The reddish egret (Egretta rufescens) is one the most distinctive herons found along the Texas coast. A medium-sized bird standing about 2 feet tall, they have a wingspan reaching almost 4 feet. As the name suggests, reddish egrets have ruddy plumage that is gray on the head, neck and upper body before transitioning to a peachy-pink tone on the belly. Their bill is long, thin and pinkish with a dark tip. Reddish egrets have dark legs and bluish facial skin around the eyes and bill. Found exclusively along the coast from Texas to Baja California, these herons inhabit saltwater bays, marshes and lagoons. They forage in a unique and active manner, dashing about rapidly or fluttering their wings to stir up small fish. This entertaining hunting method is fun to watch. Reddish egrets are somewhat gregarious and often feed in groups, nesting on coastal mangrove islands in Mexico and on barrier islands in Texas. Their breeding population is small and localized but these birds can put on quite a show with their flashy foraging techniques along the Texas shoreline.

7. Green Heron

The green heron (Butorides virescens) is a small, stocky heron species that inhabits wetlands across much of North America. They stand only about 18 inches tall, with a wingspan of around 25 inches. As the name suggests, they have overall greenish feathers, with a dark cap and back contrasting with their chestnut-colored neck. Green herons have short yellow legs and a dagger-like bill. As a smaller heron, they hunt smaller prey like insects, frogs, small fish and crustaceans along the shorelines of wetlands. Green herons are adaptable, inhabiting both fresh and saltwater habitats ranging from swamps to ponds, streams, ditches and marshes. They’re somewhat solitary but occasionally form loose breeding colonies. Males select a nesting site in a shrub or tree and attract females through elaborate courtship displays. The female lays 3-5 eggs which both parents incubate. Green herons are widespread but secretive, often taking cover under vegetation when approached. Their small size and vibrant green plumage can be tricky to spot but make them one of the most charming herons to observe in Texas wetlands.

8. Black-crowned Night Heron

The black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) is a fascinating and wide-ranging species found coast to coast across the U.S. These stocky, short-necked herons stand about 2 feet tall and get their name from the black cap and back feathers that contrast with their pale gray wings and underparts. They have bright red eyes and short yellow legs. As their name suggests, black-crowned night herons are nocturnal and crepuscular hunters, feeding most actively at dawn and dusk. They stalk crustaceans, fish, frogs, and small mammals in both fresh and saltwater wetlands. During the day, these herons roost in groups, often with white ibis and egrets. They nest in colonies called heronries, building a platform of sticks high up in dense trees or shrubs. Females lay about 3 to 5 eggs, with both parents sharing incubation duties. The young leave the nest at about 6 weeks but remain dependent on their parents for some time after. These charismatic night herons thrive in wetlands across the southern U.S. and are a distinctive bird to observe going about their unusual nocturnal routines. Their broad range keeps them common across Texas wetland habitats.


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