8 Types of Herons in New Brunswick

The graceful, long-legged herons are a common sight along the wetlands and waterways of New Brunswick. These elegant birds use their sharp bills to spear fish and other prey as they stand silent watch over rivers, lakes and marshes across the province. Get your binoculars ready as we explore the natural history and characteristics of the most prevalent heron species that breed here. From the towering Great Blue Heron to the diminutive Green Heron, New Brunswick provides excellent habitat for these masters of patient hunting. Let’s identify the 8 types most commonly seen foraging in the shallows during summer months before migrating south in winter.

Species Size Color
Great Blue Heron Large, 1m tall Slate gray body, white head with black stripe over eye, yellow bill
Great Egret Large, 1m tall All white with black legs, yellow feet and yellow bill
Snowy Egret Medium, 60-70cm tall All white with black legs, bright yellow feet and black bill
Little Blue Heron Small Blue-gray body, purple-maroon head and shoulders, greenish legs and thick black bill
Green Heron Small, 46cm tall Chestnut neck and underparts, green and chestnut upperparts, thick gray-black bill
Black-crowned Night-Heron Medium-sized Gray-black upperparts, white stripe on neck, black bill, red eyes, yellow-orange legs
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron Medium-sized, 61cm long Blue-gray back, pale gray underparts, white or yellow head plumes, thick blue-gray bill
Green-backed Heron Small, 46cm long Greenish-blue back, violet-maroon neck, rufous underparts, black cap with blue gloss

1. Great Blue Heron

The Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) is the largest and most widespread heron species found in New Brunswick. With a height of around 1 meter tall, the Great Blue Heron is an unmistakable and regal bird often seen standing motionless along shorelines or wetlands. They have a slate-gray body, a white head with a black stripe over the eye, and a long, dagger-like yellow bill used for spearing fish.

Great Blue Herons nest in trees near water, building large stick nests lined with moss, grass or pine needles. They lay between 3-6 pale blue eggs that hatch after about 28 days. Both parents share incubation and feeding of the chicks. Great Blue Herons are primarily fish eaters, but will also consume amphibians, reptiles, small mammals and insects. They often wait motionless for prey to come near, then strike rapidly with their sharp bill.

These herons are solitary birds that defend feeding territories from others. They can be seen alone or in loose flocks flying with their necks folded in an S-shape over waterways throughout New Brunswick. Great Blue Herons live year-round across most of New Brunswick near rivers, lakes, marshes and estuaries from the coast to inland regions.

2. Great Egret

The Great Egret (Ardea alba) is a large, elegant white heron adorned with long plumes on its back during breeding season. At around 1 meter in height, it’s smaller than the Great Blue Heron but larger than a Snowy Egret. Identifying features include its bright yellow bill and black legs with yellow feet.

Great Egrets nest colonially with other wading birds in trees over water. The male collects sticks and the female weaves them into a bulky nest lined with moss, grass or feathers. Between 3-6 pale blue eggs are laid and incubated for 23-27 days. Both parents feed the chicks regurgitated food like fish, frogs, small rodents and insects.

These herons stalk slowly through shallow wetlands searching for prey. They often stand motionless waiting to ambush fish that swim by. Great Egrets can be found in fresh and saltwater habitats like marshes, swamps, ponds, tidal flats and wet fields across New Brunswick. They’re more common in southern areas but can be seen as far north as the Acadian Peninsula during summer. Great Egrets migrate south in winter but some overwinter along the coast if open water remains.

3. Snowy Egret

The Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) is a small elegant white heron decorated with wispy plumes on its back and head during breeding season. They stand about 60-70cm tall with slender black legs and bright yellow feet. Their bill is thin, long and black. Snowy egrets have a thin black line that extends from the eye to the back of the head.

Their habitat includes fresh and saltwater marshes, swamps, tidal pools and wetlands across New Brunswick. They nest in small colonies with other wading birds, building platform nests of sticks in trees, shrubs or on the ground. Between 3-5 pale blue eggs are laid and incubated for around 21 days until hatching.

Snowy Egrets forage in shallow water by walking steadily with slow, deliberate steps. They eat small fish, aquatic insects, crustaceans, frogs and worms. These agile herons often run and stir up the water with their feet to scare prey into motion. They dip their bill into the water quickly to capture food. Their yellow feet may help attract and lure small fish.

In winter Snowy Egrets migrate south but some remain along the Atlantic coast if waters stay unfrozen. They return to breed across New Brunswick from April to August.

4. Little Blue Heron

The Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea) is a small dark bluish-gray heron common in New Brunswick during summer. Adults have purple-maroon shoulders and head with a blue-gray body, dark greenish legs and thick dagger-like bill. Immature little blue herons are solid white in their first 2 years.

They forage mainly at night and feed on small fish, shrimp, crabs, tadpoles and insects. Little blue herons hunt by standing motionless along shorelines waiting to ambush prey or slowly stalking through shallows. Their habitat includes fresh and saltwater marshes, swamps, ponds and wet meadows across the province.

Between late April and June, little blue herons build stick nests lined with moss, grass or leaves high in trees near water. Females lay 3-5 pale blue eggs that are incubated for around 22 days before hatching. Both parents feed the chicks at the nest by regurgitating food.

By late summer, little blue herons start to migrate south to their wintering grounds in the southern US, Mexico and Central America. Some may overwinter along the New Brunswick coast if waters remain open.

5. Green Heron

The Green Heron (Butorides virescens) is a small, stocky heron species found across New Brunswick during summer. They have chestnut and green upperparts, a rich chestnut-colored neck and underparts, with a dark cap often raised into a short crest. Their thick bill is dark gray-black and legs yellowish-green.

Green herons reach about 46cm in height and 91cm in wingspan. They’re most active near dawn and dusk, foraging slowly along shorelines or perching patiently to ambush small fish, frogs, aquatic insects and crustaceans. Green herons may also drop bait to attract fish.

Shallow, quiet waterways like marshes, ponds, ditches and slow streams are their preferred habitat. Nests are small platforms of sticks, lined with twigs or greenery, built solitarily in bushes, low trees or cattails above water. Pairs raise one brood per season of about 4 light-blue eggs that hatch in 19-21 days.

By September green herons start migrating south to winter from the southern US through Central America. But some may overwinter along the Atlantic coast where waters remain open.

6. Black-crowned Night-Heron

The Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) is a medium-sized heron active at night across New Brunswick. Adults are striking with gray-black upperparts contrasting with a thick white stripe down the neck. Their stout bill is black, eyes bright red, and legs yellow-orange.

These crepuscular herons nest in colonies called heronries, often with other wading birds. They build stick platform nests lined with twigs in trees or shrubs near lakes, rivers, marshes and swamps. Between 3-5 light-blue eggs are laid, with young hatching after about 26 days.

Black-crowned night-herons eat mostly small fish, crustaceans, aquatic insects, amphibians and small rodents. They forage optimally at dawn and dusk, standing still waiting to ambush prey or slowly stalking shorelines. During the day they roost out of sight in trees.

By September these herons migrate south, but some may overwinter along the New Brunswick coastline where waters remain open. They return to breed across the province between April and July.

7. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

The Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) is a medium-sized heron that gets its name from the white or pale yellow plumes on its head. Their back is gray-blue and underparts are pale gray. These stocky herons reach about 61cm long with thick blue-gray bills and legs.

Their habitat includes fresh and saltwater wetlands like marshes, swamps, bottomlands and mangroves. They nest in small colonies, often with other herons and egrets, building stick nests lined with leaves or twigs. Between 3-5 eggs are incubated for about 23 days before hatching.

Yellow-crowned night-herons are nocturnal and crepuscular foragers, eating mostly crustaceans, amphibians, small fish, reptiles and insects. They stand motionless waiting to ambush prey or slowly stalk shallows at dawn and dusk. During the day they roost concealed in dense trees and foliage.

Some may overwinter along the New Brunswick coast but most migrate to the southern US or farther south in winter. They return to breed near wetlands across the province between April and August.

8. Green-backed Heron

The Green-backed Heron (Butorides virescens) is a small heron species found across New Brunswick during summer. Adults have greenish-blue upperparts, a violet-maroon neck, rich rufous underparts and a black cap with a blue gloss, often raised into a short crest. They have a thick bill that’s dark gray with a yellow lower mandible, and greenish legs.

Green-backed herons reach about 46 cm long with a wingspan around 91 cm. They inhabit freshwater and brackish wetlands, foraging slowly and patiently along shorelines for fish, frogs, crustaceans and insects. Sometimes they drop bait on the water to attract fish within striking distance.

Between May and July, they build small platform nests of sticks and twigs in shrubs or trees, often over water. Females lay 3-5 light blue eggs that hatch after 19-21 days. Both parents feed and defend the young until fledging.

Come September, green-backed herons start migrating south to wintering grounds from the southern US to northern South America. Some may overwinter along the New Brunswick coast where waters remain unfrozen. They return to breed across the province between April and August each year.

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