Ardea cinerea - Grey heron:

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Summary Information
Living Organisms / Animalia / Craniata / Aves / Ciconiiformes / Ardeidae / Ardea / Species
Alternative Names Heron, Blauwe Reiger (Dutch), Héron cendré (French), Fischreiher (German), Graureiher (German), Garza real (Spanish), Gråhäger (Swedish)





  • 90-98cm, of which body 40-45cm.

External Appearance:

  • Adult: . Head white, with black lines from over eye to rear crown extending into trailing plumes on either side, nape and hindneck pale grey, chin and throat white, neck pale grey, with double line of black streaks. Upperparts blue-grey, scapulars elongated and grey-white in breeding season, shoulder patch black, tail black-tipped grey flanks grey, chest loose grey feathers, underparts white, . Wing coverts blue-grey, flight feathers blackblack with flight feathers having inner webs paler grey and secondaries finely tipped white. Legs brown, becoming yellow when paired Eyes yellow. Bill yellow
  • Juvenile: Head pale grey, forehead, crown and streak over eye dark grey/black, nape dull black, throat white, neck grey, with interrupted stripe of black feathers mixed with buff Upperparts and flanks grey. Breast and underparts white. Eye yellow, bill brown-yellow, leg brownish-yellow or dark grey, yellow-green tinge at hock joint and on tibia.
  • Nestling: upperparts brown-grey, underparts white. Eye yellow, bill grey, legs dark grey.

(B1.w2, B2)

Range and Habitat


  • Ardea cinerea cinerea Eurasia, from British Isles north into Norway, Sweden and Finland, east to Sakhalin, Manchuria, India, Sri Lanka, and south to north-west Africa and Comoro Islands. Also southwestern Mauritania, Ghana, southern Nigeria, eastern and southern Africa from Angola, Zambia, Tamzania, Kenya and Ethiopia, southward to South Africa, and Aldabra Islands.
  • Ardea cinerea monicae islands off Banc d'Arguin, Mauritania.
  • Ardea cinerea jouyi Japan, China, Indochina to North Burma, Malaya, Sumatra, Java.
  • Ardea cinerea firasa Madagascar.
  • Accidental to Spitsbergen, Greenland, Brazil, Lesser Antilles, Azores.

London: In the London Area, a common resident breeding species, with more than 400 nests in 2000, including more than 20 nests at each of Battersea Park and Regents Park in the Inner London area. (J322.65.w1)

Movements: Extreme northern populations migratory; within Palearctic, greater migratory tendency in northern and eastern populations. Further south may be dispersive or sedentary. British population sedentary.

Habitat: Mainly lowlands (upto 500m), but locally to 1000m and exceptionally higher. Found in areas with suitable trees. Shallow, fresh flowing or standing waters prefered - broad rivers, streams (not too rapid), deltas, estuaries, lakes, pools, floodlands, marshes, sandy or muddy shores, reservores, ponds, ditches, canals, ricefields, mangroves etc. Also grasslands, prefering open areas.

(B1.w2, B2, B19)

Further Information



  • Food: mainly fish, amphibians, small mammals, insects, reptiles. occasionally crustaceans, molluscs, worms, birds, vegetation.
  • Feeding behaviour: Usually solitary for feeding, but congregate if food sources restricted, or if temporary abundance. Mainly feed in daytime, particularly morning and evening. Usually wade or stand while feeding, grab or stab prey.
  • Breeding: Palearctic January to May, including Britain normally start early March, peak end March, last eggs end April, repeat laying to June. More variation in tropical areas.
  • Breeding behaviour: Seasonal monogamous pair bond. Nests in trees, upto 25m high, occasionally on cliff ledges or lake islets, and in eastern Europe uses reedbeds or other rough vegetation on the ground for nesting, also on marine islands and atolls. Nest colonially, usually one to three nests per tree, often upto ten, occasionally upto 25. Male mainly carries material, female builds nest of sticks and twigs (male mainly carries material, female builds), usually substantial (made from reeds if in reed beds); nests on open ground/shingle may be shallow scrape with few stones around. Clutch range 1-10 (Mean 4-5) (B2). Normally single brood, although rarely second clutch; replacement clutches (upto three) if eggs or young lost. Usually lay every second day, incubation by both parents starts after first egg laid, hatching asynchronous. Young semi-altricial and nidocolous, Both parents tend and feed, with brooding for first eighteen days. Food regurgitated on floor of nest. Fledge about 50 days, but return to nest further 10-20 days, then independant. May breed at one year, more often at two years old.
  • Social Behaviour: Solitary or loose groups when feeding, colonies formed for breeding.

(B1.w2, B2).

Organisations (UK Contacts):

Electronic Library (further reading):

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