8 Types of Herons in British Columbia

From the rugged Pacific coastline to the expansive interior wetlands, British Columbia provides vital habitat for an impressive diversity of heron species. These elegant, long-legged birds stalk patiently through shallow waters spearing fish or frog with razor-sharp precision. Their large wingspans cast shadows as they sail across lakes and rivers. Whether standing silent as a statue waiting to strike or soaring overhead, herons never fail to impress with their hunting skills finely tuned through millennia of evolution. Come explore the 8 most common heron species that call British Columbia home, from the iconic Great Blue to the stately Great Egret and beyond.

Heron Species Size Habitat
Great Blue Heron Large – 4 ft tall, 6 ft wingspan Coasts, rivers, lakes, wetlands
Green Heron Small – 18 in tall, 25 in wingspan Ponds, streams, wetlands
Black-crowned Night Heron Stocky – 25 in tall, 45 in wingspan Lakes, rivers, swamps
Great Egret Large – over 3 ft tall, over 50 in wingspan Marshes, ponds, rivers
Snowy Egret Medium – 24 in tall, 36 in wingspan Wetlands, rivers, coasts
Cattle Egret Small – 20 in tall, 37 in wingspan Fields, pastures
Little Blue Heron Small – 30 in tall, 40 in wingspan Coastal wetlands
Tricolored Heron Medium – 26 in tall, 45 in wingspan Coastal wetlands

1. Great Blue Heron

The Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) is the largest and most widespread heron species found in British Columbia. These large birds stand over 4 feet tall with a wingspan reaching 6 feet wide. They have blue-gray feathers on their body, a white head with black accents, and long legs.

Great Blue Herons nest in colonies called heronries, often high up in trees located near water. They build bulky stick nests and lay 3-6 eggs per clutch. These herons stalk shallow water hunting for small fish, amphibians, small mammals, and insects. They stand motionless waiting to spear prey with their sharp bill.

Great Blue Herons can be spotted along ocean coasts, estuaries, lakes, rivers, wetlands, and pretty much anywhere shallow water can be found throughout British Columbia. They are a common sight along shorelines and are the provincial bird of British Columbia.

2. Green Heron

The Green Heron (Butorides virescens) is the smallest heron found in British Columbia. Their body reaches about 18 inches in length with a wingspan around 25 inches wide. As their name suggests, Green Herons have mostly green and bronze-colored feathers on their head, neck, and body.

These compact herons live around wetlands, streams, ponds, and shorelines hunting for small fish, frogs, insects, and invertebrates. They often nest in small colonies, building a platform of sticks in low branches or shrubs.

Green Herons are somewhat short-necked and chunky compared to other long-legged herons. They have a habit of standing motionless along shorelines, blending into vegetation before striking prey. These boldly-patterned herons can be found throughout British Columbia near freshwater or estuaries.

3. Black-crowned Night Heron

The Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) is a stocky heron with black and gray plumage. As their name suggests, these herons are nocturnal or crepuscular feeders. Their stout body reaches about 25 inches in height with a wingspan of around 45 inches.

Black-crowned Night Herons have black feathers on their head, back, and wings contrasted by pale gray feathers on their underside. Their thick bill allows them to feed on crabs, shrimp, fish, rodents, frogs, and other aquatic creatures at night or during dusk and dawn.

These herons nest colonially in trees or shrubs near lakes, rivers, swamps, and estuaries. Even in urban areas, they build sturdy stick nests lined with vegetation. Their breeding grounds in British Columbia are mainly located near large wetland areas.

4. Great Egret

The Great Egret (Ardea alba) is an elegant white heron adorned with long, lacy plumes. Their clean white plumage contrasts with their black legs and brightly colored face during breeding season. With a body size reaching over 3 feet and a wingspan over 50 inches wide, it is larger and lankier than the Great Blue Heron.

Great Egrets quietly stalk the edges of ponds, marshes, and rivers spearing fish, frogs, small mammals, and insects with their long, sharp bill. They nest in colonies usually located over water, building platform nests in trees or shrubs.

These graceful white herons are most common in southwestern British Columbia. But their breeding range has expanded northward in recent decades. The stately Great Egret can be found near diverse wetland habitats across British Columbia.

5. Snowy Egret

Snowy Egrets (Egretta thula) get their name from their completely white plumage. They are elegant white herons that stand about 2 feet tall and have a wingspan reaching over 3 feet. Breeding adults have the distinctive feature of long filamentous plumes extending from their head, neck, and back.

These agile herons dart through shallow waters spearing small fish with their thin pointed bill. They also feed on frogs, crustaceans, and aquatic insects. Snowy Egrets breed near wetlands across much of British Columbia, building small platform nests in shrubs or trees.

Outside of breeding season, these herons wander more widely seeking suitable feeding habitats along rivers, lakes, estuaries, and intertidal mudflats up and down the BC coastline. Their bright white plumage makes Snowy Egrets a scenic sight as they forage gracefully through shallow waters.

6. Cattle Egret

Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis) are small, stocky white herons that have adapted to foraging in agricultural fields, pastures, and grasslands. They have a stouter body type compared to other typical wetland herons, growing to about 20 inches tall with a wingspan reaching 37 inches wide.

These agile herons feed on insects stirred up by grazing cattle or other large animals. They also opportunistically prey on rodents, amphibians, and other small animals. Cattle Egrets may nest in mixed colonies with other herons or alone in their own grouping of nests.

While originally native to Africa, Cattle Egrets have established themselves around the world. In British Columbia, they are still somewhat rare but increasing in number and range along the southwest coast where suitable agricultural habitat exists. Their adaptability may allow this worldly heron to continue expanding its population in BC.

7. Little Blue Heron

The Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea) is a small, slender heron reaching heights of around 30 inches tall with a wingspan of about 40 inches wide. Their plumage starts out completely white as juveniles before transitioning to an all-dark blue-gray coloring after 1-2 years. During breeding season, adults have a maroon-brown head and neck with two long white plumes.

Little Blue Herons stalk shallow waters skillfully spearing small fish, tadpoles, frogs, and crustaceans with their sharp bill. Outside of breeding season, they wander more nomadically seeking optimal feeding habitats. In British Columbia, they are most often seen along the southwest coast. But their range has expanded northward in recent decades.

These elegant herons nest colonially in trees located over water. They are close relatives of the very similar Reddish Egret and Western Reef Heron that are rarely sighted in British Columbia as wanderers from the south.

8. Tricolored Heron

The Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor) is a sleek, medium-sized heron that breeds in coastal wetlands down along the Pacific Northwest and into California. They stand about 26 inches tall with a wingspan reaching 45 inches wide.

As their name indicates, Tricolored Herons have three main colorations. Their head and neck are white with a reddish-brown pointed bill. The body is a blue-gray color with a rich purple to maroon belly and underside. And their wings are edged with white.

This elegantly-colored heron feeds mainly on small fish, aquatic insects, shrimp, frogs, and crustaceans in tidal waters. Their breeding range reaches just up into southwestern British Columbia where a few isolated colonies exist. Outside of nesting season, Tricolored Herons disperse more widely along the coastline. But they remain relatively rare north of the US border.

Nature Blog Network

NatureBlogNetwork.com is the leading birding research and information website. Serving the birding community since 2010.

Recent Posts