|Light green: summer
Dark green: all year
The grey heron (Ardea cinerea), is a wading bird of the heron family Ardeidae, native throughout temperate Europe and Asia and also parts of Africa. It is resident in the milder south and west, but many birds retreat in winter from the ice in colder regions. It has become common in summer even inside the Arctic circle along the Norwegian coast.
It is a large bird, standing up to 100 cm (39 in) tall and measuring 84–102 cm (33–40 in) long with a 155–195 cm (61–77 in) wingspan. The body weight can range from 1.02–2.08 kg (2.2–4.6 lb). Its plumage is largely grey above, and off-white below. Adults have a white head with a broad black supercilium and slender crest, while immatures have a dull grey head. It has a powerful, pinkish-yellow bill, which is brighter in breeding adults. It has a slow flight, with its long neck retracted (S-shaped). This is characteristic of herons and bitterns, and distinguishes them from storks, cranes and spoonbills, which extend their necks. The call is a loud croaking "fraaank". The Australian white-faced heron is often incorrectly called a grey heron. In Ireland the grey heron is often colloquially called a "crane".
There are four subspecies:
- Ardea cinerea cinerea Linnaeus, 1758. Europe, Africa, western Asia
- Ardea cinerea jouyi Clark, 1907. Eastern Asia
- Ardea cinerea firasa Hartert, 1917. Madagascar
- Ardea cinerea monicae Jouanin & Roux, 1963. Islands off Banc d'Arguin, Mauritania.
It is closely related and similar to the American great blue heron, which differs in larger size, and chestnut-brown flanks and thighs.
Food and feeding
It feeds in shallow water, catching fish, frogs, and insects with its long bill. Herons will also take small mammals and reptiles. They occasionally take birds up to the size of a Water Rail. It will often wait motionless for prey, or slowly stalk its victim. But due to their S-shaped neck, the bird is able to chop with their bill very rapidly. A wading bird, it generally avoids swimming where possible.
Grey herons have been able to live in cities where habitats and nesting space are available.
In the Netherlands, the grey heron has established itself over the past decades in great numbers in urban environments. In cities like Amsterdam, they are ever present and well adapted to modern city life. They hunt as usual but also visit street markets and snackbars. Some individuals make use of people feeding them at their homes or recreational fishermen to share their catch. Similar behaviour on a smaller scale has been reported in Ireland.
Herons have also been observed colonising water enclosures in zoos, such as spaces for penguins, otters, pelicans and seals, and taking food meant for the animals on display. Such behaviour has been noted in zoos in Vienna, London and Amsterdam.
Thorough study performed by J. Sitko and P. Heneberg in the Czech Republic in years 1962-2013 suggested that the central European grey herons host 29 helminth species. The dominant species consisted of Apharyngostrigea cornu (67% prevalence), Posthodiplostomum cuticola (41% prevalence), Echinochasmus beleocephalus (39% prevalence), Uroproctepisthmium bursicola (36% prevalence), Neogryporhynchus cheilancristrotus (31% prevalence), Desmidocercella numidica (29% prevalence) and Bilharziella polonica (5% prevalence). Juvenile grey herons were shown to host less species, but the intensity of infection was higher in the juveniles than in the adult herons. Of the digeneans found in central European grey herons, 52% of the species likely infected their definitive hosts outside of the central Europe itself, i.e., in the premigratory, migratory or wintering quarters despite the fact that a substantial part of grey herons do not migrate to the South, particularly in recently repeatedly occurring warm winters 
- BirdLife International (2012). "Ardea cinerea". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- "Grey heron (Ardea cinerea)". ARKive. Retrieved 27 January 2012.
- CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses by John B. Dunning Jr. (Editor). CRC Press (1992), ISBN 978-0-8493-4258-5.
- Pistorius, P.A. (2008) "Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) predation on the Aldabra White-throated Rail (Dryolimnas cuvieri aldabranus)" Wilson Journal of Ornithology 120 (3):631-632
- The heron's city life is documented in the Dutch documentary Schoffies (Hoodlums), shot in Amsterdam.
- "Graureiher". Tiergarten Schoenbrunn. Retrieved 6 December 2014.
- Taylor, Rosie. "Oi, hands off our fish! Cheeky heron flies in as penguins enjoy new Olympic diving pool". Daily Mail Online. Retrieved 6 December 2014.
- Sitko, J. and Heneberg P. (2015). "Composition, structure and pattern of helminth assemblages associated with central European herons (Ardeidae)". Parasitology International 64: 100–112. doi:10.1016/j.parint.2014.10.009.
- Handbook of the Birds of the World 1: 405. Lynx Edicions.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ardea cinerea.|
- YouTube video of 'dissected' gravid frog spawn caused by Herons
- Ageing and sexing (PDF) by Javier Blasco-Zumeta & Gerd-Michael Heinze
- BirdLife Species Factsheet
- Grey Heron videos, photos & sounds on the Internet Bird Collection
- Grey Heron - Species text in The Atlas of Southern African Birds.
- Photographs of breeding Grey Herons in the Black Forest, Germany
- Call of the Grey Heron (Real Audio soundfile from Sveriges Radio P2)
- Grey Heron photos Grey Heron pictures and voice
- Grey Heron catches, kills and eats a baby rabbit (Mail Online)