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Herons and Bitterns: Ardeidae

Physical Characteristics, Herons, Egrets, Bitterns, And People, Great Blue Heron (ardea Herodias): Species AccountsGEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION, CONSERVATION STATUS


Herons, egrets, and bitterns live on all continents except Antarctica. They also live on islands in all oceans. Many of these birds prefer warm climates, and they live in the tropics year round. The birds that nest in the cooler areas of the world usually migrate in spring and fall.

Herons, egrets, and bitterns usually live in wetlands, including swamps, tidal areas (where saltwater and fresh water mix), marshes, damp meadows, and forest streams. Most of them feed in water, but they like to have trees nearby for roosting at night and for their nests. Some also live in grasslands, farm fields, or rice fields, and a few kinds are able to live in drier areas.

Herons, egrets, and bitterns are carnivorous, eating only meat, and most of them eat fish. They wade in shallow water looking for prey, animals they eat, and with a rapid thrust of their long, sharp bills they capture fish. They also eat crabs and other crustaceans, frogs, insects, snails, small mammals, small birds, and reptiles.

Many kinds of herons and egrets gather in huge flocks to feed together and roost at night. They also nest in groups called colonies that can number from a few birds to thousands. Bitterns are more likely to keep to themselves. The females usually build nests with sticks brought by their mates. Except for bitterns, both parents take turns sitting on the eggs. Newly hatched young are helpless, but they grow quickly on the food their parents bring.

Some herons, egrets, and bitterns are not threatened, but others are close to extinction, dying out. Many of the birds are in trouble because of wetland pollution and destruction. In some parts of the world they are still hunted for their body parts, or they are killed when they feed at fish farms. Conservation groups are working to save protected areas for these birds and help them make a comeback.

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Animal Life ResourceBirds