8 Types of Herons in Wyoming

Wyoming’s wetlands come alive each spring with the arrival of majestic herons. These long-legged waders sweep across the state’s rivers, lakes, and marshes, their impressive wingspans casting shadows as they search for food. Eight heron species commonly thrive in Wyoming, from the enormous great blue heron stalking trout in streams, to the cattle egret riding atop grazing bison on the open prairie. Night herons prowl at dusk, their eyes piercing the shadows. Elegant egrets wade through mirrored waters. Herons fill a special niche in Wyoming’s ecosystems. Read on to learn more about these regal birds and their habits in the Cowboy State.

Heron Size Habitat
Great Blue Heron 4 ft tall Rivers, streams, ponds, wetlands
Great Egret Over 3 ft tall Freshwater and saltwater wetlands
Cattle Egret Over 2 ft tall Grasslands, wetlands near livestock
Green Heron 2 ft tall Marshes, ponds, streams
Black-crowned Night-Heron 2 ft tall Wetlands, active at night
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron 25 in tall Wooded streams and wetlands
Snowy Egret 2 ft tall Freshwater and saltwater wetlands
Little Blue Heron Under 3 ft tall Freshwater and saltwater wetlands

1. Great Blue Heron

The great blue heron (Ardea herodias) is the largest and most widespread heron species found in Wyoming. These majestic birds stand around 4 feet tall with a wingspan up to 6 feet. They have slate-gray bodies, chestnut and black bands on the neck, and long, yellowish legs. Great blue herons can be found along rivers, streams, ponds, and wetlands across the state.

These patient hunters stalk prey in shallow water, standing motionless for long periods waiting to spear fish, frogs, small rodents, and insects with their long, sharp bill. They often nest in colonies called heronries, building large stick nests high up in trees near water. Great blue herons are skilled fliers and sometimes migrate from Wyoming in winter, but some stay year-round provided open water remains. These adaptable birds flourish in wetlands altered by humans, often nesting in suburbs and city parks. Their loud, croaking call is a familiar sound near Wyoming wetlands.

2. Great Egret

The great egret (Ardea alba) is a large, elegant white heron found throughout Wyoming during spring and summer. These striking birds reach heights over 3 feet tall, with bright yellow bills and black legs and feet. Their plumage is completely white, with long lacy plumes extending from their backs during breeding season. Great egrets are highly adaptable birds, foraging for food in both freshwater and saltwater habitats.

In Wyoming, great egrets stalk slowly through shallow wetlands hunting for fish, frogs, small reptiles, and large insects. They often stand motionless waiting to ambush prey with their long, pointed bills. During nesting season, these herons build platform nests high in trees, often in mixed colonies with other wading birds. Great egrets are vocal at breeding colonies, emitting loud croaking calls. Most great egrets migrate south for winter, though some overwinter in Wyoming if open water remains. These elegant white herons are a distinctive sight on the Wyoming wetlands where they thrive.

3. Cattle Egret

Cattle egrets (Bubulcus ibis) are small, stocky white herons commonly found following livestock and wild ungulates across the grasslands and wetlands of Wyoming. These birds reach just over 2 feet tall, with yellow bills and grayish-yellow legs. In breeding plumage, cattle egrets have orange-buff plumes on their heads, necks, and backs.

True to their name, cattle egrets often forage near grazing livestock like cattle and bison, catching insects stirred up in the grass. They also forage in wetlands, hunting for small fish, amphibians, and rodents. Though calves may be seen tolerating egrets riding on their backs, cattle egrets do not harm livestock and benefit ranchers by consuming pests. These highly social birds nest colonially with other herons and egrets, building stick nests in shrubs and trees. Cattle egrets migrate from Wyoming in winter but return each spring to nest in wetlands across the state.

4. Green Heron

Green herons (Butorides virescens) are small, secretive herons found around marshes, ponds, and streams across Wyoming. These compact birds reach heights of around 2 feet, with dark green upperparts and chestnut bodies. Green herons often perch low in shrubs and trees, camouflaging well thanks to their plumage.

These herons forage mainly on land, wading at the water’s edge to catch small fish, frogs, aquatic insects, and rodents. True to their name, green herons hunt by remaining motionless and allowing prey to come within striking distance of their bills. They also use lures like insects and feathers to attract curious fish. Green herons nest solitarily in wetland thickets and woodlands, building a platform of sticks low in trees or shrubs. Though common, these quiet herons often go unnoticed thanks to their inconspicuous habits. Their nasally “skeow” call sometimes gives away their presence near Wyoming wetlands.

5. Black-crowned Night-Heron

Black-crowned night-herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) are medium-sized herons active mainly at dusk and night across Wyoming. These chunky herons reach 2 feet tall and have grayish-blue plumage with black crowns and back. Their thick bills are black, and their eyes are large and red.

As their name suggests, these herons mainly forage at night, when their eyes let them see well in low light. They take a variety of prey, from fish and frogs to small mammals, insects, reptiles, and young birds. Black-crowned night-herons nest colonially in trees, often with other heron species. They build stick platform nests and lay pale blue eggs. These adaptable herons occupy wetlands near human activity but are most active after dark thanks to their nocturnal habits. Their loud “quark” calls often ring out at night near their nesting colonies.

6. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Yellow-crowned night-herons (Nyctanassa violacea) are nocturnal and crepuscular herons identified by their large heads, thick bills, and bright yellow caps. These stocky birds reach lengths of 25 inches and have gray and white plumage with black crowns encircled by the bold yellow.

These herons nest high in trees near freshwater in colonies, often with other wading birds. They forage at dawn and dusk along wooded streams and wetlands, stalking prey like fish, crayfish, frogs, and aquatic insects. Their large eyes give them excellent night vision to hunt in low light when their prey is most active. Yellow-crowned night-herons winter farther south but return each spring to nest in wetland trees and thickets across Wyoming. Their loud, squawking calls can be heard from their nests on summer nights.

7. Snowy Egret

Snowy egrets (Egretta thula) are elegant white herons measuring around 2 feet tall, distinguished by their bright yellow feet and black bills and legs. These graceful birds have long neck plumes that drape behind them during breeding season in spring.

Snowy egrets forage in both freshwater and saltwater wetlands across Wyoming, stalking fish, insects, and crustaceans in shallow water. They often migrate south in winter but return each spring to breed in colonies with other wading birds, building stick nests in low trees or shrubs. These active hunters run and flap their wings to stir up prey while foraging. Conservation efforts helped rescue snowy egrets from the brink of extinction due to past hunting for their plumage. These striking herons remain common in wetlands across Wyoming and elsewhere thanks to protective laws.

8. Little Blue Heron

Little blue herons (Egretta caerulea) are petite, dark-colored herons that stand under 3 feet tall. Adults have slaty-blue plumage with darker wingtips, but juveniles are completely white. These herons have thick, dagger-like bills adapted for spearing fish and other small prey in fresh and saltwater habitats.

Little blue herons breed in colonies with other wading birds such as egrets and ibises, building stick nests in low trees or shrubs near water. They winter farther south, migrating through Wyoming in spring and fall. These herons stalk slowly through shallow wetlands hunting for small fish, frogs, crabs, and large insects. Though they look nearly white as juveniles, little blue herons molt into their distinctive blue and gray plumage after their second year. Their soft whistle calls can be heard coming from wetland colonies during the breeding season.

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