In Alaska, only one of the 17 species of herons that live throughout North America has been seen. There are ten more that are uncommon or unintentional. This guide will help you identify and understand more about these long-legged birds.
Herons, which subsist on saltwater, freshwater, or may even be seen peering into your backyard pond for a quick snack, are water-loving birds.
Nonetheless, many of your fish herons are protected, so if you’re having trouble finding a net, try one of these options.
Herons are often found nesting in large colonies known as heronries, but they will hunt alone by remaining absolutely still and enticing the prey or by dashing about.
A collection of herons is known as a “rookery,” and the names given to them include “battery,” “hedge,” “siege,” and even the term “scattering.”
You might want to learn more about the ducks, swans, or pelicans you may see here if you enjoy seeing waterbirds in Alaska.
11 Species Of Heron In Alaska
1. Great Blue Heron
All year long, southern Alaska’s Great Blue Herons may be seen, but they are most frequent between September and December. According to bird watchers in the state, they were found on 1% of summer checklists and 4% of winter checklists.
The largest heron native to North America, Great Blue Herons are huge, magnificent birds.
They have a white face with a black plume that extends from their foreheads to the backs of their heads, with a white crest or plume. They have a yellow-orangish bill.
Their bodies are grayish-blue, and their legs are long and grayish-blue with black and white streaking in the front.
- Ardea herodias
- Length: 46 – 52 in (117 – 132 cm)
- Weight: 128 oz (3628 g)
- Wingspan: 77 – 82 in (196 – 208 cm)
Most US states have Great Blue Herons that stay throughout the year, however they go south during the breeding season.
In Florida, the Great Blue Heron is split into two subspecies: the White and the Great White Heron.
Great Blue Herons may be found in a variety of wetland habitats. Fresh and saltwater marshes, mangrove swamps, flooded marshes, lake borders, and shorelines are all possible habitats for them.
Fish, frogs, salamanders, shrimps, crabs, dragonflies, grasshoppers, and other aquatic insects make up the majority of Great Blue Herons’ diets.
While wading or standing in water, they can capture their prey. They may also jump feet-first from perches or float on the water’s surface, among other things.
Great Blue Heron colonies are located high in trees near to water, with nests. Twigs and sticks are used to make the nests, which are lined with softer material.
Great Blue Herons may grow their nests in size over time by repurposing them, since they reuse their nests.
The female lays two to seven eggs after that. For about four weeks, both parents incubate the eggs together.
Fun Fact: With their heads thrown back, Great Blue Herons protect their eating area with magnificent wing-extended demonstrations.
2. Great Egret
In Alaska, Great Egrets are considered a uncommon or accidental species, however in 2022, one was seen around Atka Island.
Males have neon green facial skin and long, wispy feathers (aigrettes) extending from their backs to their tails during the breeding season, when Great Egrets are at their best.
They’re called Great White Herons because they’re enormous, all-white herons. Egrets are also known as ordinary egrets. These huge birds have dagger-shaped, long, brilliant yellow beaks, lengthy black legs and feet. They are white.
Mature, immature, and non-breeding males, females, and juveniles all have the same appearance.
- Ardea alba
- Length: 37 – 41 in (94 – 104cm)
- Weight: 59.96 oz (1699 g)
- Wingspan: 54 – 55 in (137 – 140 cm)
The Great Egret has a global range. Those in the southern and coastal United States stay here year-round, but those farther inland and in Canada go south.
Great Egrets may be found in both freshwater and saltwater marshes, as well as fish ponds.
Fish, frogs, small mammals, crustaceans, and insects make up the majority of Great Egret’s diet. You may observe Great Egrets standing still on the water, waiting for their prey to arrive and then striking it with their long bills once it arrives.
Colonies of Great Egrets nests may be discovered. To protect the nests from predators like raccoons, they are frequently placed high up in trees, preferably on islands.
Sticks, twigs, and marsh plant stems are used to make them. Both parents incubate the eggs for around twenty-five days, which they lay up to six.
Fun Fact: Because of their lengthy white feathers (aigrettes), the Great Egret was on the verge of extinction. They were mostly used to embellish women’s hats.
3. American Bittern
In Alaska, American Bitterns are an accidental species and are exceedingly uncommon. In 2020, they were last seen near Barnes Lake.
In the spring of the American Bittern, you may hear strange watery boom calls well before you see them if you’re lucky. Below you’ll find a list of places to visit.
The Heron family includes American Bitterns, which are hefty, medium-sized birds.
Because of their brown striped and mottled patterning, as well as their capacity to stay motionless amid the reeds with their head tilted upward, they appear like the reeds they hide in.
Because of their brown striped and mottled patterning, and capacity to remain motionless amid the reeds with their head lifted up, they resemble the reeds they hide in.
They have small legs and yellow eyes that darken during courting.
- Botaurus lentiginosus
- Length: 23 in (58 cm)
- Weight: 25.6 oz (726 g)
- Wingspan: 42 – 50 in (107 – 127 cm)
Before going to the Gulf Coast and Mexico, American Bitterns breed in Canada and northern US states.
Shallow, freshwater marshes and wetlands with tall reeds are home to American Bitterns nearly exclusively.
To discover them, focus your eyes on the borders of lakes and ponds amid the rough vegetation.
Fish, crustaceans, insects, amphibians, and tiny mammals make up the American Bitterns’ diet. They wait quietly and still in the reeds for their victim to approach, then rush forward suddenly to capture them in their bills. They hunt stealthily among the reeds, staying motionless and quiet.
Around the water, among coarse vegetation, you may find Nests of American Bitterns. Females pick a location for the nest and construct it using available reeds, sedges, cattails, and other plants.
They lay seven eggs, which are incubated for around twenty-six days. The females feed the chicks straight into their beaks when they hatch. They leave the nest after two weeks and are fully developed at six to seven weeks.
Fun Fact: Like the reeds that conceal them, American Bitterns point upwards and sway gently from side to side.
4. Black-crowned Night-Heron
In Alaska, the Black-crowned Night-Heron is an accidental species. These were last sighted near Adak Island in 2016, and they are exceedingly uncommon in the state.
The conventional image of the heron family does not apply to Black-crowned Night-Herons, also known as Night Herons. It has a shorter bill, neck, and legs than most other ducks.
The heads of adult Black-crowned Night-herons are black, with a white line extending from the top of their black bills.
The lores (in front of the eye, towards the beak) are green-blue, and their eyes are red. The bottom is white, while the back is black. They have yellow legs and feet.
Two or three white feathers appear on the crown during the breeding season, and the black coloring of the head and back changes to a glossy blue-green. The legs and feet become red or pink, and the lores turn black.
The overall color of juveniles is dull grayish-brown with streaks and spots.
- Nycticorax nycticorax
- Length: 25 – 28 in (64 – 71 cm)
- Weight: 38.8 oz (1100 g)
- Wingspan: 44 – 45 in (112 – 114 cm)
The range of Black-crowned Night-herons extends across the globe. Before heading south, they breed in the United States and Canada. Others may be found along the coast throughout the year.
In wetland settings such as shallow freshwater or brackish rivers, you may see Black-crowned Night-herons. Artificial habitats such as reservoirs, canals, and fish ponds are also home to them.
In order to choose their mates, Black-crowned Night-heron males build nests in bushes or trees, which are started by the males.
The female will lay up to seven eggs every two days. For around twenty-four days, both parents incubate the eggs straight after they are deposited. For about three weeks, the parents will look after their children.
Fun Fact: For more than a century, the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., has hosted a colony of Black-crowned Night-herons for the summer.
5. Cattle Egret
Cattle Egrets were last seen in Alaska in 2014, according to records, and they are classified as an accidental species.
The backs of cattle are a clever place for Cattle Egrets to snag their meal because they stand there, so the disturbed prey is snagged.
White bodies and yellow brown patches on their heads, necks, and backs distinguish Cattle Egrets, which are little, short-necked egrets.
Their irises and skin are yellow, as are their faces. They have greenish-black legs and tiny yellow bills. Males and femen look similar.
During the breeding season, Cattle Egrets change color and become more luminous, especially on their legs and face.
Their light orange patches become deeper orange during breeding season. At the peak of their mating, their bills, legs, and irises turn vivid crimson, while their face skin (lores) turns pinkish-red.
- Bubulcus ibis
- Length: 19 – 21 in (48 – 53 cm)
- Weight: 17.98 oz (510 g)
- Wingspan: 36 – 38 in (91 – 97 cm)
Cattle Egrets may be found all over the globe, however they only breed in Mexico, the Gulf Coast, and southern states in the United States throughout the year.
Nevertheless, once they breed further north, mainly in the eastern United States, they migrate south.
Cattle Egrets can be found in native grasslands, pastureland, agricultural fields, and rice paddies, particularly those where hoofed animals are present.
They do venture into the edges of aquatic environments, such as riverbanks, ponds, and shallow marshes, despite their preference for staying on land and atop cattle. Golf courses, lawns, athletic fields, dumps, and parks are other places where they may be found.
Cattle Egret nests are typically built in woodlands near lakes or rivers, in swamps, or on tiny islands. They’re fashioned out of sticks and reeds.
The female lays up to nine eggs, which take around twenty-five days to hatch. The young take roughly 45 days to grow up, fledge, and become fully independent of their parents.
Fun Fact: Rather than correcting for light refraction when feeding in water, the Cattle Egret’s eyes have adapted to foraging on land by having binocular vision.
6. Gray Heron
In Alaska, however, where they are considered uncommon or accidental, grey herons were recently observed near Buldir Island in 2022.
The Gray Heron has ash-grey on top and grayish-white on the bottom feathers, hence the name “ash-grey wader.”
Its neck is white with long feathers down its chest, and its head is white and black. It has a lengthy, pinkish-yellow beak. It has long, brown legs.
Females are usually smaller than males, but they look similar. The heads of juveniles are dull grey, and the crowns are dark grey. The overall color is also grey.
Great Blue Herons are bigger and have brown flanks and thighs, whereas Gray Herons resemble them in appearance.
- Ardea cinerea
- Length: 33 – 40 in (84 – 102 cm)
- Weight: 35.2 – 73.6 oz (997 – 2085 g)
- Wingspan: 61 – 77 in (155 – 195 cm)
The typical habitat of the Gray Herons is Europe, Asia, and Africa, but they have been straying into North America more often.
Lakes, reservoirs, tiny and big rivers, marshes, ponds, flooded places, coastal lagoons, estuaries, and the seashore are all places where you may spot Gray Herons with water and fish.
Because of their enormous size and the speed with which they capture prey in the water, grey herons are regarded as apex predators.
They may stay quite still as they observe their victims and then strike accurately and gently with their long, muscular beaks when they are within striking distance.
In the water, the bill strikes bigger prey, causing it to be stabbed and battered.
Gray Heron nests are frequently found near water and in high trees. They reuse their nests, and as a result, they grow in size with the addition of more materials each year.
Females construct the nests, while males are in charge of locating nesting material. The females lay three to five eggs, which are incubated for about twenty-six days by the parents. Parents regurgitate fish for their young when they hatch.
Fun Fact: Gray Herons fly with their heads pulled back and their long necks retracted into an S-shape, making it easy to identify them in the air. Herons with their heads spread out are also common.
7. Chinese Pond-Heron
In Alaska, Chinese Pond-Herons are an uncommon sight and have been declared an accidental species. In 2011, they were last seen in Gambell.
Golden-brown streaked heads, yellow eyes, and lores (the region in front of the eye towards the beak); olive-brown backs; white bellies; and yellow legs characterize nonbreeding adults.
The distinctive coloring of Breeding Male Chinese Pond Herons distinguishes them from other herons. Their heads, necks, and chests are wine-red, with a long, thin crest that extends from the rear of the head to the base of the nape.
- Ardeola bacchus
- Length: 16 – 20 in (40 – 50 cm)
- Weight: 10.8 – 12 oz (306 – 340 g)
- Wingspan: 30 – 40 in (80 – 100 cm)
In East Asia, Chinese Pond Heron is part of the Pond Heron family, but in North America, it is considered a vagrant.
Rice fields and shallow aquatic wetlands such as marshes, swamps, mangroves, streams, and tidal pools are good places to find Chinese Pond Herons.
Fish, insects, crustaceans, frogs, and other tiny aquatic creatures are commonly eaten by Chinese Pond Herons. When prey comes into range, they wait motionless until it approaches them before striking. They may additionally pick up their meal from the ground while moving very slowly.
Chinese Pond Heron nests are placed high in the tops of trees, where they are built in colonies. Little sticks are lined with leaves and grass, and they’re made of them.
For roughly twenty days, both parents incubate the eggs of the female, which lays three to six.
Fun Fact: In August 1997, a specimen of this species was seen on Saint Paul Island, Alaska. This was the first time it had been seen in the United States.
How Frequently Herons Are Spotted In Alaska In Summer And Winter
Checklists are a excellent method to learn which birds you may commonly see in your region. In the summer and winter in Alaska, these lists show which herons are most commonly seen on ebird checklists.
Herons in Alaska in summer:
Great Blue Heron 1.5%
Great Egret <0.1%
American Bittern <0.1%
Black-crowned Night-Heron <0.1%
Gray Heron <0.1%
Green Heron <0.1%
Snowy Egret <0.1%
Tricolored Heron <0.1%
Little Egret <0.1%
Chinese Pond-Heron <0.1%
Herons in Alaska in winter:
Great Blue Heron 4.2%
Great Egret <0.1%