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Grey heron

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Grey heron
Graureiher Grey Heron.jpg
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
Range of C. pusilla      Breeding range     Year-round range     Wintering range

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.


(video) A grey heron at a river flying

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. Their 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".


Grey heron (juvenile) from Nederlandsche vogelen (Dutch birds) by Nozeman and Sepp (1770-1829): This copy of the hand-painted print is held at Koninklijke Bibliotheek.

The four subspecies are:[4]

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. A heron also takes small mammals and reptiles. It has also been observed catching and killing juvenile birds such as ducklings, and occasionally takes birds up to the size of a water rail.[5] Due to its S-shaped neck, the bird is able to strike with its bill very rapidly. It often waits motionless for prey, or slowly stalks its victim.

City life[edit]

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 such as 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.[6]

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.[7][8][9]


Eggs, collection Museum Wiesbaden

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


A thorough study performed by J. Sitko and P. Heneberg in the Czech Republic in 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 fewer 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 [10]



  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. ^ Dunning Jr., John B., ed. (1992). CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses. CRC Press. ISBN 978-0-8493-4258-5. 
  4. ^ Gill, F.; Donsker, D., eds. (2014). "IOC World Bird List (v 4.4)". doi:10.14344/IOC.ML.4.4. 
  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. doi:10.1676/07-101.1. 
  6. ^ The heron's city life is documented in the Dutch documentary Schoffies (Hoodlums), shot in Amsterdam.
  7. ^ "Graureiher". Tiergarten Schoenbrunn. Retrieved 6 December 2014. 
  8. ^ 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. 
  9. ^ "Birdworld Animals". Birdworld. Retrieved 21 January 2015. 
  10. ^ Sitko, J.; 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. 

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