In Colorado, eight of the seventeen species of herons that live in North America have been discovered. There are four more that are uncommon or happen by chance. This guide will assist you identify and learn about these long-legged birds.
Herons, which prefer salty, freshwater, or even pondering your backyard pond for a quick meal, are saltwater-loving birds.
Nevertheless, many of your fish herons are protected, making a net your best option if you’re having trouble catching them.
Herons are often found nesting in colonies known as heronries, although they prefer to hunt on their own by remaining completely still and catching or scaring up the meal.
A collection of herons is known by a variety of names, including “rookery,” “battery,” “hedge,” and even the term “siege.
You should learn more about the ducks, swans, and pelicans you may see in Colorado if you enjoy seeing waterbirds.
12 Species Of Heron In Colorado
1. Great Blue Heron
The Great Blue Herons are found throughout Colorado year-round, although their numbers rise from April to October. They are seen on 16% of summer and 5% of winter bird watcher checklists for the state, according to records.
The biggest heron native to North America, Great Blue Herons are huge, majestic birds.
From the front of their eyes to the back of their heads, they have a white face with a black crest or plume. They have a yellowish-orangish complexion.
The front is streaked with black and white, while the back is grayish-blue. They have long gray legs with a long neck.
- 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 throughout the year, but they migrate south during breeding season.
In Florida, the Great White Heron is a subspecies of the Great Blue Heron with white feathers.
Great Blue Herons may be found in a variety of wetlands. Freshwater and saltwater marshes, mangrove swamps, flooded marshes, lake edges, 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 take their prey. Hovering over water, diving into it, leaping feet-first from perches, and floating on the water’s surface are all possible behaviors.
Great Blue Heron colonies may be found high in the trees near water, where they build nests. Twigs and sticks are used to build the nests, which are lined with softer materials.
Since Great Blue Herons reuse their nests, they may expand and develop them over time, resulting in the expansion of their nests.
After that, the female lays two to seven eggs. For around four weeks, both parents alternate incubating the eggs.
Fun Fact: With their heads thrown back, Great Blue Herons protect their feeding grounds with spectacular outstretched wing displays.
2. Snowy Egret
From April to November, Snowy Egrets may be seen in Colorado while breeding. Summer checklists include them at a rate of 5%.
The little, all-white herons known as snowy egrets are named for the word. They have long black bills, long black legs, and bright yellow feet. Their irises are yellow and they have yellow skin around their eye.
Long, lacy feathers grow on their heads, necks, and backs throughout the breeding season. During courtship, their lores and cheeks acquire a reddish-pink coloration, while their toes acquire an orange-red coloration.
Interestingly, when they are in a fight, their limbs turn a vivid red.
Adults and juveniles have head plumes, although the juveniles do not. Their bills and legs are also lighter in color, with a more greenish-yellow lores and legs.
- Egretta thula
- Length: 22 – 27 in (56 -69 cm)
- Weight: 16.75 oz (475 g)
- Wingspan: 39.4 in (100 cm)
Except for the Gulf Coast and southwest coasts, snowy egrets migrate across most of the United States. Throughout the year, they may be found in Mexico, Central, and South America.
Snowy Egrets may be found in marshes, riverbanks, lakesides, pools, salt marshes, and estuaries in shallow freshwater environments. Swamp woodlands with protective trees and plants are preferred for nesting.
Fish, crustaceans, snails, frogs, and crayfish are hunted by snowy egrets in shallow water. They may either sit idle until prey comes to them or they may stir the water, making it simpler for them to catch their prey.
Males pick the nests of Snowy Egrets. They choose a place and put on a full show to attract their partners. Males continue to provide sticks, sedges, or reeds while the female creates the nest when they couple up.
Nests are frequently found in trees or bushes on the ground, and are seldom visible. Both parents incubate their eggs, which the female lays two to six at a time. The incubation period is usually twenty-four days.
Fun Fact: Since their lovely white head feathers were such a nice embellishment or accessory for ladies’ hats, snowy egrets were almost hunted to extinction.
3. Black-crowned Night-Heron
From April through November, Black-crowned Night-Herons may be found throughout Colorado, although they are permanent residents. Summer checklists include 3% of these items.
The typical description of the heron family does not apply to Black-crowned Night-Herons, or simply Night Herons. It has a shorter beak, neck, and legs than other stork species.
The black crowns of adult Black-crowned Night-herons are long and extend from a white line above their black bills.
The lores (in front of the eye, towards the beak) are green-blue, and their eyes are red. Beneathneath, they’re white, while the rear is deeper. Yellow is the color of their legs and feet.
The black head and back become a glossy blue-green during the breeding season, with two or three white feathers appearing on the crown. Legs and feet become red or pink, while the lores turn black as well.
The whole body of juveniles is a 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 spans across the globe. They breed in the United States and Canada before moving south in North America. Along the coasts, some may be seen all year.
Wetland habitats such as shallow freshwater or brackish rivers are ideal for Black-crowned Night-herons. Artificial habitats such as reservoirs, canals, and fish ponds are also utilized to them.
In preparation for selecting their mates, male Black-crowned Night-herons build nests in bushes or trees and start them by himself.
After that, the female will lay up to seven eggs every two days. For roughly twenty-four days, both parents begin to incubate the eggs that have been placed. For roughly three weeks, the parents will be responsible for their newborn.
Fun Fact: For more than a century, the National Zoo in Washington, DC has housed a colony of Black-crowned Night-herons during the summer months.
4. Great Egret
From April through mid-October, Great Egrets may be seen in Colorado, where they account for 1% of summer checklists.
When males have bright green facial skin and long, wispy feathers (aigrettes) extending from their backs to their tails, Great Egrets are at their best during the breeding season.
They’re commonly known as Great White Herons because they’re huge all-white herons. Common egrets are another name for them. These huge birds have dagger-like, long, bright yellow beaks, black legs and feet, and are white.
Males, females, and juveniles all have the same non-breeding appearance.
- Ardea alba
- Length: 37 – 41 in (94 – 104cm)
- Weight: 59.96 oz (1699 g)
- Wingspan: 54 – 55 in (137 – 140 cm)
The range of Great Egrets extends across the globe. Those in the southern and coastal United States stay there all year, whereas those in Canada migrate south.
Great Egrets may be found in both freshwater and saltwater marshes, as well as fish ponds.
Freshwater and saltwater marshes, as well as tidal flats and fish ponds, are home to Great Egrets.
Fish, frogs, small creatures, crustaceans, and insects make up the majority of the Great Egret’s diet. Great Egrets stand motionless in the water, waiting and scouting for their prey, before striking and skewering it with their long bills.
Great Egret colonies have nests. To keep the nests safe from predators like raccoons, they are commonly placed high up in trees, preferably on islands.
Marsh plant sticks, twigs, and stems were used to create them. Both parents incubate the eggs for around twenty-five days, which can contain up to six eggs.
Fun Fact: Due to its long white feathers (aigrettes), the Great Egret was on the verge of extinction. They were mostly utilized to adorn ladies’ hats, thus they were nearly hunted to extinction.
5. Green Heron
From April to mid-November, Green Herons breed in Colorado and are spotted.
The glossy green-black color of the crowns, crests, backs, and wings of Green Herons makes them stand out against a backdrop. You need to get up close to see this.
During the breeding season, their bills turn black and are two-toned, with a dark top and a yellow bottom. Their irises and legs also change color from yellow to orange.
Chestnut or maroon coloration covers their heads, necks, and breasts. A white central stripe runs down the front length of the neck, separating them from others. Gray is the color of their bellies.
Browner in color and with a black hat, juveniles have a bigger crest.
- Butorides virescens
- Length: 18 – 22 in (46 – 56 cm)
- Weight: 9.17 oz (260 g)
- Wingspan: 25 – 26 in (64 – 66 cm)
Before migrating south, green herons breed primarily in the eastern United States and the Pacific Coast. Those in the Gulf Coast, Caribbean, and Mexico, on the other hand, stay all year.
Green Herons may be found in damp environments with deep vegetation, such as bogs, marshes, lakes, and ponds. They may stay in dry woods or orchards if there are water sources nearby, and they prefer coastal and inland wetlands.
Little fish, insects, spiders, crustaceans, snails, amphibians, reptiles, and rodents make up the Green Heron’s diet. Rather than wading, they usually hunt from shore by perched on sticks over the water.
Green Heron nests are built in the trees over water, but they may also be found on the ground, hidden under shrubs. They’re made of long, thin twigs.
Females lay two eggs per day, arranged in two-day intervals. The final egg is deposited, and the couple begins incubating together for around twenty days. When their babies are born, they both feed them.
Fun Facts: Bait, such as bread, feathers, twigs, and leaves are used by green herons to catch prey, which is one of the few bird species to do so. (Davis and Kushlan, 1994).
6. Cattle Egret
In Colorado, Cattle Egrets are only seen occasionally, but from April through November, they are recognized as a frequent sight.
Cattle Egrets utilize a clever method of capturing their dinner…they stand on the backs of cattle and capture the fleeing prey when the cattle move and disturb the earth.
Cattle Egrets have white bodies and pale orange-brown patches on their heads, necks, and backs. They are small, short-necked egrets.
Their irises and face are yellow, as is their skin. The bills are small, and the legs are greenish-black. Males and femen look a lot alike.
During the breeding season, Cattle Egrets’ colors change and they become more vibrant, mostly on their legs and face.
Their pale orange patches darken during the breeding season. At the peak of their courting, their bills, legs, and irises become bright red, and their face skin (lores) becomes pinkish-red.
- Bubulcus ibis
- Length: 19 – 21 in (48 – 53 cm)
- Weight: 17.98 oz (510 g)
- Wingspan: 36 – 38 in (91 – 97 cm)
The range of Cattle Egrets extends across the globe, but throughout North America, those in Mexico’s south and the Gulf Coast states remain year-round.
Breeding, on the other hand, occurs farther north, primarily in eastern US states.
Cattle Egrets may be found in open grasslands, pastures, grain fields, and rice paddies, especially where there are hoofed animals.
They do venture into the edges of aquatic environments, such as riverbanks, ponds, and shallow marshes, despite their preference to stay on land and atop cattle. Golf courses, lawns, athletic fields, dumps, and parks are also common habitats for them.
Insects, mostly grasshoppers, crickets, flies, beetles, and moths are the main food of Cattle Egrets. Spiders, frogs, small snakes, lizards, earthworms, and fish are among the other foods they consume.
Cattle Egret nests are generally constructed in woodlands near lakes or rivers, in marshes, or on tiny islands. They are constructed of sticks and reeds.
Females lay up to nine eggs, which take roughly twenty-five days to hatch. The young take roughly 45 days to grow, fledge, and become fully self-sufficient from their parents.
Fun Fact: By having binocular vision for judging distance to catch prey on land rather than correcting for light refraction when feeding in water, the Cattle Egret’s eyes have adapted to foraging on land.
7. American Bittern
From mid-March through November, American Bitterns may be seen in Colorado, although they are not particularly common.
In the spring of the American Bittern, if you’re lucky, you’ll hear the bizarre watery boom calls long before you see them. Below are some samples of what you can expect from us.
The Heron family includes American Bitterns, which are chunky, medium-sized birds.
Their brown striped and mottled patterning, as well as their capacity to remain motionless amid the reeds with their head tilted up, make them seem like the reeds they conceal in.
They have small legs and yellow eyes that turn orange during courtship.
- Botaurus lentiginosus
- Length: 23 in (58 cm)
- Weight: 25.6 oz (726 g)
- Wingspan: 42 – 50 in (107 – 127 cm)
Before migrating 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 almost exclusively.
In order to discover them, look for them near the edges of lakes and ponds amid coarse vegetation.
Fish, crustaceans, insects, amphibians, and small mammals make up the diet of American Bitterns. They wait quietly and still among the reeds, waiting for their victim to approach before leaping forward quickly and snaring them in their beaks.
Watery nests of American Bitterns may be discovered amid rough vegetation. With available reeds, sedges, cattails, and other vegetation, females select the nest site and construct it themselves.
They lay seven eggs and keep them for about twenty-six days while they are incubated. The females feed the chicks directly into their beaks when they are hatched. They fledge the nest after two weeks, and in six to seven weeks, they are completely grown.
Fun Fact: Just like the reeds that conceal them to hide themselves, American Bitterns point upwards and sway gently from side to side.
8. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
In Colorado, yellow-crowned night-herons are a uncommon or accidental species, but they may be seen from April to October during the summer.
Yellow crowns with two plumes extending from their heads characterize adult Yellow-crowned Night Herons. Their black bills contrast with their bright eyes. Below their eyes, the rest of their skulls are black, with a little white patch on each side.
As they got older, their eyes turned from yellow to orange to red.
Their wings have a scaled pattern and they have gray-blue bodies. During the breeding season, their legs, which are long and yellow, turn coral, pink, or red.
Juveniles are light grayish-brown with white streaks and specks all over. To reach adulthood, they must spend three years.
- Nyctanassa violacea
- Length: 22 – 28 in (56 – 71 cm)
- Weight: 25.6 oz ( 726 g)
- Wingspan: 42 0 44 in (107 – 112 cm)
Before flying south, yellow-crowned night-herons breed mostly in the southeastern United States. In Mexico, the Caribbean, and northern South America, they are found all year.
Before heading south, yellow-crowned night-herons breed primarily in the southern United States. Throughout Mexico, the Caribbean, and northern South America, they stay throughout the year.
In coastal regions with a lot of crustaceans, shallow waters, and strong borders on which to feed, you may see Yellow-crowned Night-herons at daybreak and dusk.
Crustaceans like crabs and crayfish make up the majority of the diet of Yellow-crowned Night-herons. Fish, insects, worms, mollusks, lizards, snakes, rats, and birds are among the other foods that they consume. Little prey can be devoured instantly by them.
Crabs are frequently dismembered or stabbed in the body.
Yellow-crowned Night-herons’ nests are typically discovered in small, loosely organized colonies, but they always locate near water. Both parents make nests out of soft grass, leaves, or mossy twigs.
The pair then stays up for approximately three weeks to eight eggs, which they hatch together. The chicks are fed through regurgitation after they hatch. They fledge after around a month, and at the age of fifty, they can fly on their own.
Fun Fact: The eastern equine encephalomyelitis (EEE) virus, which is deadly to horses and humans, may be carried by yellow-crowned night-herons.
9. Little Blue Heron
During the breeding season, from April to mid-October, Little Blue Herons are not frequently seen in Colorado, although they have been spotted here.
Little Blue Herons under adult age are not that little. With long, stretched bodies, they range in size from medium to large. With dangling feathers over the nape, their heads and necks have a purple hue.
During the breeding season, their eyes may turn gray-green. Two-toned – light blue or grayish with black tips – their long, dagger-like bills are two-toned. Slate-colored creatures possess bodies. Long and black to gray-green in color, their legs are very long.
Before becoming a combination of dark gray, blue, and white, Juvenile Little Blue Herons are completely white during their first year.
- Egretta caerulea
- Length: 24 – 29 in (61 – 74 cm)
- Weight: 16.22 oz (460 g)
- Wingspan: 40 – 41 in (102 – 104 cm)
Before heading south, Little Blue Herons breed in the eastern United States, but they spend the entire year in Mexico and the Gulf Coast.
Little Blue Herons may be found in swamps, marshes, ponds, streams, lagoona, tidal flats, canals, ditches, fish hatcheries, or flooded fields where they spend their time.
In comparison to other herons, Little Blue Herons forage in a more graceful manner. They only stand and wait in shallow waters for their prey instead of dashing about across the water.
Fish, frogs, snakes, turtles, spiders, crustaceans, mice, and insects are among the foods of Little Blue Herons. Juveniles prefer to remain with mixed groups, while adults prefer to forage alone.
Little Blue Heron nests are made out of sticks and are often found in groups with other herons. Up to six eggs are laid by the female. The incubation period is twenty-four days for both parents.
Fun Fact: Juvenile Little Blue Herons are able to capture more fish and have greater protection from predators since they have a white coloring that matches Snowy Egrets.
10. Tricolored Heron
In Colorado, Tricolored Herons are an uncommon sight, but they have been observed mostly around Denver during the summer. They are classified as an unexpected species.
The white belly and neck stripe of a Tricolored Heron distinguishes it from other herons.
The back of the heads of breeding adults are also covered in thin, white feathers, and their beaks turn blue as well. On their necks and backs, they have finer feathers. The reddish color of their legs becomes more pronounced.
The neck, upper breasts, upper back, and wings of juveniles are more reddish-brown in color.
- Egretta tricolor
- Length: 24 – 26 in (61 – 66 cm)
- Weight: 14.6 oz (414 g)
- Wingspan: 36 in (91 cm)
Throughout the Gulf Coast, Mexico, and northern South America, tricolored Herons may be seen year-round. Those that breed farther north migrate south along the Atlantic Coast.
Tricolored Herons may be found in freshwater and brackish marshes, estuaries, and coastal tidal pools or swamps.
Tricolored Herons, like all solitary feeders, are territorial when it comes to food. Other wading birds that wish to eat little fish, frogs, crustaceans, and insects will be chased away from their area by these birds.
Tricolored Heron nests are sticks built in colonies on trees and shrubs, and they build them in groups of three. The female lays three to five eggs, and the parents split the incubation process, which takes three weeks. The eggs hatch three weeks later. The young are also fed by both of them.
Fun Fact: The only dark-colored heron with a white belly, the Tricolored Heron used to be known as the Louisiana Heron.
11. Least Bittern
In Colorado, the Least Bitterns are a rare species. There have been recent sightings near John Martin Reservoir State Park and John Martin Reservoir State Park in 2022, which are extremely rare in the state.
In the reeds, you may hear Less Bitterns before you see them, since they are the smallest herons in North America.
With a black cap and top to their yellow beak, they are brown and white hues. They pinch the reeds with their long toes and claws.
Females, like males, have lighter backs and crowns than juveniles.
- Ixobrychus exilis
- Length: 11 – 14 in (28 – 36 cm)
- Weight: 3 oz (85 g)
- Wingspan: 16 – 18 in (41 – 46 cm)
The Bitterns’ normal habitat is Europe and Africa, although they may be found in North America on occasion.
Least Bitterns may be found in thick freshwater and brackish marshlands, where there are many tall cattails and reeds. When they perch on reeds, look for them.
They will immediately freeze up, raise their bills to the sky, and sway in unison with the reeds when they detect danger.
Little fish, frogs, tadpoles, salamanders, slugs, dragonflies, aquatic insects, and occasionally mice make up the diet of the Least Bittern. They climb on the reeds and perform acrobatic contortions in order to get their victims on the surface of the water.
The female of the Least Bitterns builds well-concealed nests from cattails and marsh plants, which are well-concealed platforms. Both adults incubate her eggs for around twenty days. She lays up to seven eggs. They then regurgitate feed to feed newly hatched chicks.
Fun Fact: Long necks and a hunchbacked stance characterize the Least Bitterns.
12. Reddish Egret
In Colorado, Reddish Egrets are considered a near-threatened species, and they were last sighted in Jackson Lake State Park in 2020, according to records.
This is one of the best birds to watch because of Reddish Egrets’ dusky pink and grayish-blue tones and their energetic racing around to catch fish.
These birds come in dark and light morphs, with white morphs being uncommon. They are referred to as Reddish Egrets, but they are actually more common than that.
The bodies, necks, and breasts of dark morph Reddish Egrets are blue-gray, while the heads are cinnamon colored. Pink, with a black tip, is the color of their bills.
The bodies of white morphs are totally devoid of color. They have blue-black legs and feet, as well as straw yellow eyes with darker skin (lores).
Adults will mate with either morph, and juveniles are likewise dark or white.
- Egretta rufescens
- Length: 27 – 32 in (69 – 81 cm)
- Weight: 15.9 oz (451 g)
- Wingspan: 46 in (117 cm)
From the Gulf Coast, East Coast, and Mexico through northern South America, Reddish Egrets may be seen all year.
In open marine flats and beaches, you may see Reddish Egrets. Marshes, shallow bays, and lagoons are also home to them.
Reddish Egrets are solitary birds that eat and forage. In the hopes of catching fish, they cross shallow, saturated flats. They immediately stab fish with their beaks after they’re successful in scaring them up.
Reddish Egret nests are often found in colonies, with both parents contributing to the construction of a sticks platform. Protected islands with nearby feeding grounds are often chosen.
Both parents incubate the eggs, which can be up to seven in number and take twenty-five days. Even after they leave the nest, they both love children and will feed them for up to nine weeks.
Fun Fact: The male will do a head toss exhibition and beak snapping during mating, when his feathers puff out and stand out on his head, neck, and back.
How Frequently Herons Are Spotted In Colorado In Summer And Winter
Using checklists, you may find out which birds are most frequently seen in your region. In Colorado during the summer and winter, these lists show which herons are most often seen on checklists.
Herons in Colorado in summer:
Great Blue Heron 16.1%
Snowy Egret 5.0%
Black-crowned Night-Heron 3.3%
Great Egret 1.1%
Green Heron 0.4%
American Bittern 0.3%
Cattle Egret 0.3%
Little Blue Heron 0.1%
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron 0.1%
Tricolored Heron <0.1%
Least Bittern <0.1%
Reddish Egret <0.1%
Herons in Colorado in winter:
Great Blue Heron 5.7%
Black-crowned Night-Heron 0.3%
Great Egret <0.1%
American Bittern <0.1%
Green Heron <0.1%
Cattle Egret <0.1%