Delaware has seen 11 of the 17 species of herons that live throughout North America on a regular basis. There are two more that are uncommon or unintentional. These long-legged birds may be identified and learned about using this guide.
Herons are saltwater, freshwater, and even pond-peering birds that love to eat water.
Yet, many of your fish herons are protected and a net is the most effective way to catch them if you’re having trouble.
Herons, on the other hand, often build huge colonies known as heronries where they breed together but hunt alone by standing motionless and waiting or dashing about.
A flock of herons is known by a variety of names, including “rookery,” “battery,” “hedge,” “siege,” and “pose” among others.
You should learn more about the ducks, swans, or pelicans you may observe here if you enjoy seeing waterbirds in Delaware.
13 Species Of Heron In Delaware
1. Great Blue Heron
Delaware is home to many Great Blue Herons, which may be seen throughout the year. In 36% of summer checklists and 24% of winter checklists submitted by birdwatchers for the state, they are recorded.
The Great Blue Heron is the biggest heron native to North America, and they are incredibly big and magnificent.
From in front of their eyes to the back of their heads, they have a white face with a black crest or plume. Their orangish bills are yellow.
They have grayish-blue bodies with grayish-blue legs and a long gray neck with black and white streaks in the front.
- Ardea herodias
- Length: 46 – 52 in (117 – 132 cm)
- Weight: 128 oz (3628 g)
- Wingspan: 77 – 82 in (196 – 208 cm)
Great Blue Herons dwell throughout most of the United States all year, but southern breeders migrate during the winter.
In Florida, the Great Blue Heron is known as the Great White Heron because of its white morph.
Great Blue Herons may be found in a variety of wetland habitats. Fresh 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.
When wading or standing in water, they are able to capture their prey. Hovering above water, diving into it, leaping feet-first from perches, and floating on the surface of the water are all skills that they may have.
Great Blue Heron colonies can be found high up in the trees, near to water. Twigs and sticks are used to make the nests, which are then lined with softer material.
Great Blue Herons may expand and rebuild their nests over time, as they reuse them.
The female deposits two to seven eggs at a time. The eggs are incubated by both parents for approximately four weeks.
Fun Fact: With their heads thrown back and their wings stretched out, Great Blue Herons defend their feeding ground with spectacular displays.
2. Great Egret
Between April and October, Great Egrets may be seen in Delaware during the summer. Summer checklists have them in 25%, whereas winter checklists have them at 2%.
Males have neon green facial skin and long, wispy feathers (aigrettes) extending from their backs to their tails during breeding season, and Great Egrets are at their best when they’re breeding.
They’re known as Great White Herons because they’re enormous, all-white herons. Common egrets are another name for them. These huge birds have dagger-like beaks, long black legs and feet, and large white bodies.
Males, females, and juveniles of all ages 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)
Around the world, Great Egrets may be found. Those in southern and coastal states stay there all year, but those in the interior migrate south during the winter.
Great Egrets may be found in both fresh and saltwater marshes, as well as fish ponds, throughout the year.
Fish, frogs, small mammals, crustaceans, and insects make up the majority of Great Egret’s diet. Great Egrets stand motionless on the water, waiting for their prey and then striking and spear it with their long bills, as you can see in the video.
Great Egret colonies are home to their nests. To safeguard the nests from predators like raccoons, they are usually installed 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 times.
Fun Fact: TBecause of their long white feathers (aigrettes), the Great Egret was nearly hunted to extinction. They were mostly used to decorate ladies’ hats.
3. Snowy Egret
From March through November, snowy egrets may be found in Delaware, with a 25% appearance on summer checklists.
Snowy Egrets are tiny all-white herons, as the name implies. They feature long, black beaks, long, black legs, and bright yellow footpads. Their irises are yellow and their skin around their eyes is hairy.
Long, lacy feathers grow on their heads, necks, and backs throughout the breeding season. During courtship, their lores or face skin turn reddish-pink, and their toes turn orange-red.
Surprisingly, during aggressive encounters, these sections of their bodies become bright red.
Adults have head plumes, but juveniles do not. Their bills and legs are likewise lighter, and their lores and legs are more greenish-yellow in color.
- 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 the southwest coast, snowy egrets migrate from all US states. In Mexico, Central, and South America, they are found all year.
Marshes, riverbanks, lakesides, pools, salt marshes, and estuaries are all good places to look for Snowy Egrets. They like to live in swampy woods with shielding trees and plants for nesting.
Fish, crustaceans, snails, frogs, and crayfish are all hunted by snowy egrets in shallow water. They may restlessly wait for prey to come to them or stir the water in order for their prey to surface so that they may capture it more easily.
The males choose Snowy Egret nests. They choose a spot and display themselves in their full glory to attract mates. The males continue to offer sticks, sedges, or reeds to the females when they pair up, while the females build the nest.
Nesting sites are usually exposed on the ground or amid trees. After that, the female lays two to six eggs, and both parents incubate them. The incubation period is usually twenty-four days.
Fun Fact: Because of their lovely white head feathers, which were ideal adornment or accessory to women’s hats, snowy egrets were on the verge of extinction.
4. Green Heron
Green Herons are seen on 12% of summer checklists and spend the breeding season in Delaware. In April, they arrive, and in October, they begin migrating.
The glossy green-black color of the crowns, crests, backs, and wings of Green Herons attracts attention when they appear hunched and gloomy from a distance.
During the breeding season, their bills turn black and have two-toned, dark on top and yellow at the bottom. Their irises and legs likewise change color from yellow to orange.
In the breeding season, their bills become black, with two-toned dark on top and yellow at the bottom. Their irises and legs become orange as well, turning yellow.
Chestnut or maroon are the colors of their heads, necks, and breasts. The neck is striped with a white stripe down the center line. Gray is the color of their stomachs.
With blacker caps and a higher crest, juveniles are browner.
- Butorides virescens
- Length: 18 – 22 in (46 – 56 cm)
- Weight: 9.17 oz (260 g)
- Wingspan: 25 – 26 in (64 – 66 cm)
Before traveling south, Green Herons breed mostly in the eastern United States and the Pacific Coast. Those in the Gulf Coast, Caribbean, and Mexico, on the other hand, are permanent.
Green Herons may be found in damp environments with thick vegetation, such as bogs, marshes, lakes, and ponds. They may stay in dry woods or orchards if there are water sources nearby, despite their preference for coastal and inland wetlands.
Little fish, invertebrates, spiders, crustaceans, snails, amphibians, reptiles, and rodents make up the Green Herons’ diet. Rather than wading, they hunt from the shore by perched on sticks over the water.
Nests of Green Herons are made of long, thin twigs high in the trees over water, but some may also leave them on the ground, hidden under bushes.
Green Heron nests are built in the treetops over water, although some may instead be placed on the ground, disguised beneath shrubs.
Females lay two to six eggs at two-day intervals. The last egg is placed before the incubation process begins, which takes around twenty days. Once they’ve hatched, both parents feed their young.
Fun Facts: Bait, such as bread, feathers, twigs, and leaves, are used by green herons foraging. (Davis and Kushlan, 1994) This is one of the few bird species that does so.
5. Little Blue Heron
From mid-March until October, Little Blue Herons may be seen throughout Delaware, although some remain until January. Summer checklists include them in 4% of the time.
Little Blue Herons aren’t always that small. Long, extended bodies characterize these creatures from medium to huge. With hanging feathers across the nape, their heads and necks have a purple coloration.
During the breeding season, their eyes can become gray-green as a result of their pale yellow color. Two-toned – pale blue or grayish with black tips – their long, dagger-like bills are two-toned. Slate-blue is the color of their skin. They range in color from black to dark green on their legs.
Until they reach the age of one, juvenile Little Blue Herons are completely white, eventually turning dark gray, blue, and white.
- Egretta caerulea
- Length: 24 – 29 in (61 – 74 cm)
- Weight: 16.22 oz (460 g)
- Wingspan: 40 – 41 in (102 – 104 cm)
Before migrating south, Little Blue Herons breed in the eastern United States, but they spend the entire year along the Gulf Coast and Mexico.
Little Blue Herons may be seen in wetlands, marshes, ponds, streams, lagoons, tidal flats, canals, ditches, and flooded fields where they may be found around water.
In comparison to other herons, Little Blue Herons move with more elegance while foraging. Instead of racing about across the sea, they simply wait in shallow seas for their prey to come.
Fish, frogs, snakes, turtles, spiders, crustaceans, mice, and insects make up the Little Blue Heron’s diet. Adults prefer to go alone, while juveniles favor to stay in mixed groups.
Little Blue Heron nests are constructed of sticks and are usually found in groups with other herons. Up to six eggs are produced by the female. For up to twenty-four days, both parents share in the incubation process.
Fun Fact: Juvenile Little Blue Herons are able to catch more fish and have additional protection against predators because of their white coloring, which is visible among Snowy Egrets.
6. Black-crowned Night-Heron
All year, Delaware is home to black-crowned night-herons, but their numbers peak between April and October. Summer checklists account for 4% of those found.
The typical description of the heron family does not apply to Black-crowned Night-Herons, or simply Night Herons. The beak, neck, and legs are all shorter than those of a typical duck.
The black caps of adult Black-crowned Night-herons 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. The back is darker than the rest of their body. They have yellow legs and feet.
The head and back become glossy blue-green during the breeding season, with two or three white feathers developing on the crown. The limbs and feet become red or pink, as well as the lores turning black.
The adults are a dull grayish-brown color 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 worldwide range of black-crowned night-herons is enormous. Before migrating south, they breed in North America, particularly in the United States and Canada. They can be found all year along the coast.
Wetland habitats such as shallow freshwater or brackish rivers are home to Black-crowned Night-herons. Artificial habitats such as reservoirs, canals, and fish ponds are also used to raise them.
Black-crowned Night-herons eat whatever they can find, such as crayfish, fish, and even turtles or worms. They are night-feeders who feed at night.
In preparation for selecting their mates, males build nests of Black-crowned Night-herons, which are often placed in bushes or trees.
After that, the female will lay up to seven eggs over the course of two days. For about twenty-four days after the eggs are deposited, both parents start to incubate them. For approximately three weeks, the parents will look after their children.
Fun Fact: For more than a century, a colony of Black-crowned Night-herons has spent their summers at the National Zoo in Washington, DC.
7. Tricolored Heron
From April through October, Tricolored Herons may be seen throughout Delaware. Summer checklists include them at 1% of the time.
The white belly and neck stripe of a Tricolored Heron distinguishes it from other herons.
Blue-gray, purple, and white feathers are present on non-breeding adults. Yellowish or greyish in color, with a black tip, their bills are yellowish or greyish. Yellow or olive green are their legs and feet.
The back of the head and the base of the beak of breeding adults become blue, as well as thin, white feathers extending from their heads. On their necks and backs, they have more delicate feathers. Their legs, too, become a reddish hue.
The neck, upper breasts, upper back, and wings of juveniles are darker in color.
- Egretta tricolor
- Length: 24 – 26 in (61 – 66 cm)
- Weight: 14.6 oz (414 g)
- Wingspan: 36 in (91 cm)
The Gulf Coast, Mexico, and northern South America are home to tricolored herons all year. Those who breed farther north in the Atlantic Coast move south as winter approaches.
Tricolored Herons may be found in rivers, marshes, estuaries, and coastal tidal pools or swamps, both freshwater and brackish.
Tricolored Herons are territorial when it comes to food, and they are aggressive. Other wading birds will be chased away from their area, and they will like to consume small fish, frogs, crustaceans, and insects.
Tricolored Heron nests are built in colonies on trees and shrubs and made of sticks. The female lays three to five eggs, and the parents share responsibility for incubating them for three weeks before they hatch. They also breastfeed the infants.
Fun Fact: The Louisiana heron, formerly known as the Tricolored Heron, is the only dark-colored heron with a white belly.
8. Cattle Egret
From April to October, Cattle Egrets may be seen in Delaware, with 2% of summer checklists containing them.
Cattle Egrets use a smart technique of capturing their prey….they stand on the backs of cattle and catch the startled prey as they move and rumble the earth.
Cattle Egrets have white bodies with pale orange-brown patches on their heads, necks, and backs. They are small, short-necked egrets.
Their irises and cheeks are yellow in color. Their bills are small and greenish-black, and their legs are short. Males and females have a similar appearance.
The color of cattle egrets varies throughout the year, becoming more vivid, particularly on their legs and face during mating season.
Their pale orange patches darken during the breeding season. At the peak of their courting, their bills, legs, and irises turn vibrant red, and their facial 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)
Cattle Egrets may be found throughout North America, but those in the south, Mexico, the Gulf Coast, and southern US states stay throughout the year.
Those, on the other hand, that breed farther north, mostly in the eastern United States, migrate south after breeding.
Cattle Egrets may be found in grasslands, meadows, agricultural fields, and rice fields wherever there are hoofed animals.
They do venture into the edges of aquatic settings, such as riverbanks, ponds, and shallow marshes, despite their preference for staying on land and atop of cattle. Golf courses, lawns, athletic fields, dumps, and parks are also common places for them to be found.
Insects, mostly grasshoppers, crickets, flies, beetles, and moths are the main food of Cattle Egrets. Spiders, frogs, tiny snakes, lizards, earthworms, and fish are also on the menu.
Cattle Egret nests are most commonly constructed in woodlands near lakes or rivers, in marshes, or on small islands. They are constructed of sticks and reeds.
The females lay up to nine eggs, which they incubate for around twenty-five days. The young take around 45 days to grow, fledge, and become completely independent of their parents.
Fun Fact: By having binocular vision to assess distance to capture prey on land rather than correcting for light refraction while eating in water, the Cattle Egret’s eyes have evolved to foraging on land.
9. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
From April through October, yellow-crowned night-herons breed in Delaware, accounting for 1% of summer checklists.
Yellow crowns with two plumes protruding from their heads characterize adult Yellow-crowned Night Herons. They have black bills that are rather large. The remainder of their skulls is black, with a little white patch on either side of their eyes.
As they grew up, their eyes became red and changed color from yellow to orange to red.
Their wings feature a scaled design, and their bodies are gray-blue. During the breeding season, their legs grow longer and turn scarlet, pink, or crimson.
Grayish-brown with white streaks and spots, juveniles are born grayish-brown. It takes three years for them to reach adulthood.
- Nyctanassa violacea
- Length: 22 – 28 in (56 – 71 cm)
- Weight: 25.6 oz ( 726 g)
- Wingspan: 42 0 44 in (107 – 112 cm)
Before heading south, yellow-crowned night-herons breed in the southeastern United States. They can be found in Mexico, the Caribbean, and northern South America throughout the year.
In coastal places with a lot of crustaceans, shallow waters, and sufficient edges to feed on, you may see Yellow-crowned Night-herons at daybreak and dusk.
Crustaceans like crabs and crayfish make up the majority of Yellow-crowned Night-herons’ diets. Fish, insects, worms, mollusks, lizards, snakes, rodents, and birds are among the other foods they consume. Little prey can be devoured in a flash.
Crabs are often hacked or sliced open in the hopes of finding a delicious morsel inside.
Yellow-crowned Night-herons’ nests are typically found in tiny, loose colonies, but they always construct them near water. Both parents construct the nests using soft sticks and twigs collected from grass, leaves, or moss.
After that, for about three weeks, she lays up to eight eggs and they incubate them together. The chicks are fed by regurgitation after they hatch. They fledge in around a month and are capable of flying on their own at fifty days.
After that, they lay up to eight eggs and sit together for three weeks while they are incubated. The chicks are fed by regurgitation when they hatch. They fledge after about a month and can fly on their own after fifty days.
Fun Fact: The eastern equine encephalomyelitis (EEE) virus, which can kill horses and people, is carried by the yellow-crowned night-heron.
10. Least Bittern
From April through mid-October, Least Bitterns have been seen on Delaware’s summer checklists in 1% of the time.
In the reeds, you may hear the least bitterns first, which are the tiniest herons in North America.
With a black cap and yellow beak, they are brown and white hues with a dark top. They grip the reeds with their long toes and claws.
Females and juveniles have lighter backs and crowns than males, but they are similar.
- Ixobrychus exilis
- Length: 11 – 14 in (28 – 36 cm)
- Weight: 3 oz (85 g)
- Wingspan: 16 – 18 in (41 – 46 cm)
The normal range of Little Bitterns is Europe and Africa, although they may venture into North America from time to time.
With many tall cattails and reeds, you can find Least Bitterns in thick freshwater or brackish marshes. When they perch on reeds, look for them.
They’ll immediately stiffen up, raise their bills to the sky, and swerve in rhythm with the reeds when they sense danger.
Little fish, frogs, tadpoles, salamanders, slugs, dragonflies, aquatic invertebrates, and occasionally mice make up the diet of least bitterns. They sit on the reeds, doing acrobatic contortions to reach their victim on the water’s surface. They do this in order to capture them.
The female of the Least Bitterns creates well-concealed platforms made of cattails and marsh plants. Both parents incubate the eggs for around twenty days, which she lays up to seven. They then regurgitate food to feed newly hatched chicks.
Fun Fact: The necks of Least Bitterns are long and they commonly remain in a hunched posture.
11. American Bittern
In Delaware, American Bitterns are relatively uncommon, although they may be seen from October to April.
In the spring of the American Bittern, you may hear the unusual watery boom calls much before you see them if you’re lucky. Below are some of the things you may want to check out.
The Heron family of birds includes American Bitterns, which are bulkier and medium-sized.
Because of their brown striped and mottled patterning, and their ability to remain motionless amid the reeds with their head tilted up, they appear to be reeds.
They have short 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 heading to the Gulf Coast and Mexico, American Bitterns breed in Canada and northern US states.
The shallow, freshwater marshes and wetlands with tall reeds are home to American Bitterns.
To detect them, train your eyes on the margins of lakes and ponds amid the rough vegetation.
Fish, crustaceans, insects, amphibians, and small mammals make up the diet of American Bitterns. They wait quietly, motionless, hidden among the reeds, anticipating their victim to approach them and then dash forward quickly to capture them in their bills.
On the water, among coarse vegetation, you may find nests of American Bitterns. With available reeds, sedges, cattails, and other vegetation, females select the nest site and construct it themselves.
These eggs are incubated for around twenty-six days, ranging from seven to ten eggs. Females feed the chicks straight into their beaks when they are born. They leave the nest after two weeks and are fully developed in six to seven weeks.
Fun Fact: Like the reeds that conceal them, American Bitterns tip up and sway gently from side to side.
12. Little Egret
In Delaware, Little Egrets are a uncommon or accidental species, however sightings have been reported between May and September.
The entire body of Little Egrets is white. Long, thin necks, black beaks, yellow eyes, lores of yellow facial skin (long black legs), and yellow feet characterize them.
Little Egrets have wispy feathers on their heads, lower throats, and backs during the breeding season. At the height of courting, their face skin turns crimson, and their feet turn crimson or pink.
In addition, there are blue-gray morphs that have replaced the white on their heads.
Juveniles have greenish-black legs and duller yellow feet, but they look the same as adults.
- Egretta garzetta
- Length: 22 – 26 in (56 – 66 cm)
- Weight: 17.6 oz (499 g)
- Wingspan: 34 – 41 in (86 – 104 cm)
Little Egrets are common visitors to the United States and Canada, but their normal range is Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Little Egrets may be found hunting in fish ponds, as well as around wetland regions such as lakeshores, riverbanks, ponds, lagoons, marshes, and canals.
Little Egret nests are frequently made of platform sticks and placed high up in reed beds or mangroves. The material for building is normally found by males, who transport it to the females to do the work.
The female lays up to six eggs, which her parents incubate for around three weeks. Over the course of two weeks, both parents care for their children. After six weeks, they fledge.
Fun Fact: Due to the popularity of feathers for embellishing hats at the time, Little Egrets became extinct in Ireland and Great Britain due to overhunting.
13. Reddish Egret
In Delaware, redshank Egrets are considered a near-threatened species, and they were last seen in Cape Henlopen State Park in 2018, according to records.
This is one of the greatest birds to observe because of Reddish Egrets’ dark pink and grayish-blue colors and fierce efforts to capture fish.
Reddish Egrets come in dark and light variants, with white variants being uncommon. They are often referred to as Reddish Egrets.
Blue-gray bodies, cinnamon-toned heads, necks, and breasts distinguish dark morph Reddish Egrets. Pink with a black tip, their bills are easy to spot.
The bodies of white morphs are completely white. Their eyes are straw yellow, and their legs and feet are blue-black, but they both have darker skin around (lores).
Adults can mate with either morph, and juveniles are also dark or white.
- Egretta rufescens
- Length: 27 – 32 in (69 – 81 cm)
- Weight: 15.9 oz (451 g)
- Wingspan: 46 in (117 cm)
Until northern South America, Reddish Egrets may be found all year along the Gulf Coast, East Coast, and Mexico.
In open marine flats and beaches, you may see Reddish Egrets. Marshes, shallow bays, and lagoons are also home to them.
Reddish Egrets mostly eat on their own. In order to capture fish, they walk across thin, flooded flats. They immediately stab fish with their beaks after they successfully Scare them up.
Reddish Egret nests are commonly found in colonies, with both parents constructing a foundation of sticks. They’re usually found on small islands with nearby feeding habitats.
The female lays seven eggs, which both parents incubate for twenty-five days. Even after they leave the nest, they will feed their offspring for nine weeks and take care of them.
Fun Fact: The male will perform a head toss display 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 Delaware In Summer And Winter
Checklists can help you discover which species are most often seen in your region. On checklists on ebird in the summer and winter of Delaware, these lists display which herons are most commonly seen.
Herons in Delaware in summer:
Great Blue Heron 36.5%
Great Egret 25.4%
Snowy Egret 25.3%
Green Heron 12.1%
Little Blue Heron 4.4%
Black-crowned Night-Heron 4.3%
Cattle Egret 2.3%
Least Bittern 1.8%
Tricolored Heron 1.4%
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron 1.2%
Little Egret 0.4%
American Bittern 0.1%
Reddish Egret <0.1%
Herons in Delaware in winter:
Great Blue Heron 24.0%
Great Egret 2.6%
Black-crowned Night-Heron 0.6%
American Bittern 0.6%
Tricolored Heron 0.1%
Little Blue Heron <0.1%
Snowy Egret <0.1%
Cattle Egret <0.1%
Green Heron <0.1%
Least Bittern <0.1%