8 Types of Herons in Manitoba

The wetlands and waterways of Manitoba teem with heron life. These elegant, long-legged wading birds frequent the province’s many lakes, rivers, marshes, and ponds – prime habitat that supports over 20 heron species. But a select few are encountered more often by birders and nature enthusiasts. These keystone heron species have adapted well to Manitoba’s geography and climate, thriving across the province. Whether standing motionless as a statue waiting to spear fish, feeding stealthily at night, or nesting in bustling colonies, Manitoba’s most common herons reveal the richness of our wetland ecosystems. Their beauty and hunting skills never cease to impress.

Heron Species Size Habitat and Diet
Great Blue Heron Over 4 feet tall, 6 foot wingspan Marshes, lakes, rivers. Fish, amphibians, small mammals, insects.
Green Heron 18 inches tall, 25 inch wingspan Marshes, ponds, lakes. Fish, amphibians, insects, small rodents.
Black-crowned Night Heron 25 inches tall, 45 inch wingspan Wetlands, marshes, ponds, lakes. Fish, crustaceans, insects, amphibians, small mammals.
Yellow-crowned Night Heron 25 inches tall, 45 inch wingspan Wetlands, marshes, lakes, rivers. Fish, frogs, crustaceans, insects, small mammals.
Little Blue Heron 22 inches tall, 35 inch wingspan Fresh and brackish wetlands. Fish, amphibians, crustaceans, aquatic insects.
Tricolored Heron 26 inches tall, 42 inch wingspan Fresh and brackish wetlands. Fish, frogs, salamanders, crustaceans, insects.
Cattle Egret 18 inches tall, 32 inch wingspan Fields, meadows, livestock pastures. Insects, frogs, lizards, snakes, mice.
Great Egret Over 3 feet tall, 4 foot wingspan Wetlands, rivers, grasslands. Fish, amphibians, reptiles, insects, crustaceans.

1. Great Blue Heron

The great blue heron (Ardea herodias) is the most widespread and common heron found in Manitoba. It stands at over 4 feet tall with a wingspan reaching up to 6 feet. The great blue heron has a slate-gray body with a white head that has a black stripe over the eye. Its long bill is yellowish in color.

Great blue herons frequent marshes, lakes, rivers, and other wetlands where they wade slowly through shallow water while hunting for fish, amphibians, small mammals, and insects. They typically stand motionless waiting to ambush prey that swims by. Great blue herons nest high up in trees and form breeding colonies called heronries that can contain dozens of nests in a small area.

When taking flight, the great blue heron folds its long neck back against its body, then uses slow and steady wing beats. Its large size and leisurely flight pattern make this heron easy to identify at a distance. The great blue heron migrates south in winter but some individuals remain in Manitoba year-round, even surviving the frigid temperatures by roosting in sheltered areas out of the wind.

2. Green Heron

The green heron (Butorides virescens) is a small and stocky heron species that occurs throughout Manitoba. Adults have chestnut and greenish upperparts with a rich chestnut neck and head. The face is striking with a black cap and thick dark stripe through the eye. The belly is light grayish in color. The bill of the green heron is dark and thickset.

These herons reach lengths of 18 inches with a wingspan around 25 inches. Green herons are most active at dawn and dusk. They forage while perched on branches as well as by walking slowly through marshy areas. Their diet consists of fish, amphibians, insects, small rodents, and other aquatic animals.

Green herons often nest in small colonies but sometimes solitarily. Nests are compact platforms of sticks built in trees, shrubs, or other elevated vegetation. This species occurs year-round in the southernmost parts of Manitoba but migrates out of northern regions during the winter months. The green heron is much more cryptic than other heron species. Its small size allows it to move through dense low vegetation with ease as it hunts.

3. Black-crowned Night Heron

The black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) is a stocky heron with black crown and back, with the rest of the body being pale gray. Adults have white undersides and a white face with black bill. Immature birds are brown and streaked. These herons reach about 25 inches in height and have a wingspan up to 45 inches.

Black-crowned night herons forage at dawn and dusk, and also at night, giving them their common name. They frequent wetlands, marshes, ponds, lakes, and river edges. Feeding mostly at night allows them to exploit prey that is more active after dark. They eat fish, crustaceans, insects, amphibians, and small mammals.

This species nests in colonies containing stick nests built in trees or shrubs, often over water. Colonies can include hundreds of nesting pairs. The black-crowned night heron migrates out of northern Manitoba for the winter, but some remain year-round in the south. Its nocturnal habits help it deal with the hot days of the breeding season when it is less active. This heron relies on concealment to ambush prey and blends right in when roosting motionless during daylight hours.

4. Yellow-crowned Night Heron

The yellow-crowned night heron (Nyctanassa violacea) has slate gray upperparts, a black face and crown, and a white underside. Yellow plumes arise from the crown area. These medium-sized herons reach lengths of 25 inches and have a wingspan up to 45 inches.

Yellow-crowned night herons forage mostly at night on a variety of prey including fish, frogs, crustaceans, small mammals, and insects. Their large eyes give them excellent night vision. During the day, they roost inconspicuously in trees and shrubs.

This species nests high in tree canopies, often together in loose colonies. Nesting sites are usually located over or near water. Yellow-crowned night herons winter in Central and South America after migrating out of Manitoba and the rest of North America. However, some can remain in southern Manitoba year-round if conditions allow. The nocturnal hunting strategies of this heron allow it to avoid competing with other heron species for food resources.

5. Little Blue Heron

The little blue heron (Egretta caerulea) is a small heron with slate-blue feathers on the head, neck, and body contrasted by a maroon-purple neck and wing feathers during breeding season. The bill is grayish blue with a black tip. Immature little blue herons are all white. These herons average 22 inches in height with a wingspan of 35 inches.

Little blue herons inhabit freshwater and brackish wetlands across Manitoba where they forage while wading through shallow waters. They hunt small fish, amphibians, crustaceans, and aquatic insects by standing motionless and ambushing prey or slowly stalking it.

These herons nest in colonies with other wading birds, building a platform nest of sticks high up in trees adjacent to feeding areas. The little blue heron breeds in Manitoba during the summer months then migrates to warmer southern regions for the winter. Numbers of these herons in Manitoba have been declining in recent decades likely due to habitat loss on their breeding and wintering grounds.

6. Tricolored Heron

The tricolored heron (Egretta tricolor) is a sleek, slender heron with stark white and slate-gray plumage. As its name suggests, it has three colors – dark slate upperparts, a white underside, and reddish-purple feathers on the head and neck during breeding season. This heron reaches about 26 inches in height with a wingspan up to 42 inches.

Tricolored herons forage in freshwater and brackish wetlands preying on small fish, frogs, salamanders, crustaceans, and insects. They often forage while wading methodically through shallow water or standing motionless to ambush passing prey. This species usually nests in mixed colonies with other herons and egrets.

The tricolored heron breeds in scattered parts of southern Manitoba. Some individuals disperse more widely after breeding. This species winters primarily along the Gulf Coast and farther south after migrating out of its breeding range. Tricolored heron numbers have declined across North America due to habitat loss and degradation. They are now listed as a threatened species in Canada.

7. Cattle Egret

The cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) is a small white heron with a yellowish or buffy orange bill, legs, and feet. During breeding season, adults develop orange-buff plumes on the head, neck, and back. This species reaches lengths of 18 inches with a wingspan up to 32 inches.

Cattle egrets live up to their name and are often found following livestock, large mammals, or agricultural machinery to catch insects or other prey stirred up by them. They also forage actively in moist fields and meadows. These egrets eat a wide range of prey including various insects, frogs, lizards, snakes, mice, and other small animals.

Cattle egrets nest in mixed colonies, often with other heron species, building platform nests in trees and shrubs. Originally a species of the tropics and subtropics, cattle egrets have expanded their range dramatically across North America. In Manitoba, they are most numerous in the southern parts of the province. Many cattle egrets migrate after the breeding season, but this species is increasingly adapting to colder climates.

8. Great Egret

The great egret (Ardea alba) is an elegant white heron adorned with long plumes streaming from the back during breeding season. It has a slender black bill and black legs with yellow feet. Great egrets stand over 3 feet tall and have a wingspan exceeding 4 feet.

These herons stalk through shallow wetlands searching for fish, amphibians, small reptiles, insects, and crustaceans. They also employ a strike technique, facing into the sun to spot prey silhouetted above, which they spear with a quick jab of their bill. Great egrets sometimes wander far from water and forage in grasslands and agricultural fields.

Great egrets nest in colonies with other wading birds such as herons and egrets. They build platform nests high in trees located over waterways and wetlands. Most great egrets that breed in Manitoba migrate south in winter, but some overwinter in the south of the province if open water persists. Once endangered by plume hunters, great egret numbers recovered after protection efforts and remain stable today.

Nature Blog Network

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

Recent Posts