Grey heron

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Grey heron
Grey heron (Ardea cinerea).jpg
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Pelecaniformes
Family: Ardeidae
Genus: Ardea
Species: A. cinerea
Binomial name
Ardea cinerea
Linnaeus, 1758
Ardea cinerea map.png
Light green: summer
Dark green: all year
Blue: winter

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.[2] The body weight can range from 1.02–2.08 kg (2.2–4.6 lb).[3] 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:

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[edit]

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.[4] 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.

City life[edit]

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. They are also present at the zoo during feeding times for penguins, pelicans and seals. 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.[5]


This species breeds in colonies (heronries) in trees close to lakes, the seashore or other wetlands, although it will also nest in reedbeds. It builds a bulky stick nest.


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Ardea cinerea". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ "Grey heron (Ardea cinerea)". ARKive. Retrieved 27 January 2012. 
  3. ^ CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses by John B. Dunning Jr. (Editor). CRC Press (1992), ISBN 978-0-8493-4258-5.
  4. ^ 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
  5. ^ The heron's city life is documented in the Dutch documentary Schoffies (Hoodlums), shot in Amsterdam.

External links[edit]