In Indiana, 10 of the 17 species of herons that live in North America have been discovered. There are 2 more that are uncommon or unintentional. This article will assist you in identifying and understanding about these long-legged birds.
Herons are a group of water-loving birds that can be found in oceans, lakes, and ponds, peering into your own pond for a quick feed.
However, several of your fish herons are protected, making a net your best option if you’re having trouble.
Herons are often found nesting in huge colonies referred to as heronries, although they prefer to hunt by remaining motionless and waiting for or frightening up the prey.
A collection of herons is known as a “rookery,” and there are several more peculiar names for such a collection, including “battery,” “hedge,” “siege,” and “pose.”
You should learn more about the ducks, swans, or pelicans you may observe in Indiana if you like seeing waterbirds.
12 Species Of Heron In Indiana
1. Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Herons may be seen in Indiana year-round, however from April to October. On 27% of birdwatchers’ summer and 9% of their winter checklists for the state, they’re seen.
The largest heron native to North America, Great Blue Herons are huge birds with a noble appearance.
Their face is white, and their plume or crest extends from the front of their eyes to the rear of their heads. They have a yellowish-orangish complexion.
Long gray necks with black and white streaking on the front, grayish-blue bodies, and long gray legs characterize them.
They have grayish-blue bodies with long gray legs, and their necks are greyish-blue 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)
Most US states have Great Blue Herons throughout the year, but they migrate south to breed in the Mid-West and Canada.
In Florida, the Great Blue Heron is split into two subspecies: the Great White Heron and the White Morph.
Wetland environments are home to Great Blue Herons. They may be found in fresh and saltwater marshes, mangrove swamps, flooded marshes, lake borders, and beaches.
When wading or standing in water, they can capture their prey. Hovering above water, diving into it, jumping feet-first from perches, and floating on its surface are some of the other abilities they may have.
Colonies of Great Blue Herons may be found at heights near to water, in nesting sites. Twigs and sticks are used to construct the nests, which are lined with softer material.
Great Blue Herons may repair and expand their nests over time, resulting in the nests becoming larger as they are reused.
The female then lays two to seven eggs. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs for around four weeks.
After that, the female lays two to seven eggs. Over four weeks, both parents alternate between incubating the eggs.
Fun Fact: With their heads thrown back, Great Blue Herons protect their eating territory with spectacular wing-outstretched performances.
2. Great Egret
From April through November, Great Egrets may be seen in Indiana, accounting for 7% of summer checklists. Some may be seen in the state throughout the year, however.
Males have neon green facial skin and long, wispy feathers (aigrettes) extending from their backs to their tails during the breeding season, which they display off during courting like a peacock does with his tail. Great Egrets are at their best then.
They’re enormous all-white herons that are often referred to as Great White Herons. Common egrets are another name for them. These huge birds feature long, black legs and feet, as well as dagger-like, long beaks.
Mature males, females, and juveniles all appear the same.
- Ardea alba
- Length: 37 – 41 in (94 – 104cm)
- Weight: 59.96 oz (1699 g)
- Wingspan: 54 – 55 in (137 – 140 cm)
The Great Egret’s range extends across the globe. Those in the southern and coastal United States stay there throughout the year, while those farther inland go south.
Great Egrets may be found in both freshwater and saltwater marshes, as well as fish ponds, but not everywhere.
Fish, frogs, small mammals, crustaceans, and insects make up the majority of Great Egret’s diet. Great Egrets will stand peacefully on the water, waiting for and scouting their prey before striking and spearing it with their long bills.
Great Egret colonies have nests. To keep predators like raccoons at bay, they are usually placed high up in trees, preferably on islands.
Marsh plant sticks, twigs, and stems are used to make them. Females lay up to six eggs, and both parents care for them for around twenty-five days while they are incubating.
Fun Fact: Because of their lengthy white feathers (aigrettes), which were largely employed to embellish women’s hats, the Great Egret was nearly hunted to extinction.
3. Green Heron
During the breeding season, Green Herons are seen in 8% of summer checklists in Indiana. In April, they arrive, and in October, they begin migration.
The glossy green-black coloring of the crowns, crests, backs, and wings of green herons is what earns them their name, but they appear hunched and dark from a distance. You need to get a closer look.
During the breeding season, their bills turn black, with a two-toned appearance: dark on top and yellow at the bottom. Their irises and legs also become orange in color.
Chestnut or maroon are their heads, necks, and breasts. The front part of the neck is striped with a white stripe that runs down the length. Gray is the color of their bellies.
Browner and with a deeper crest than adults, juveniles have a brownish coloration.
- 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 bred mostly in the eastern US and Pacific Coast. However, they are all year around for those along the Gulf Coast, the Caribbean, and Mexico.
Swamps, marshes, lakes, ponds, and other damp environments with deep vegetation are home to Green Herons. They may stay in arid woods or orchards if there are water sources nearby, despite their preference for coastal and inland wetlands.
Green Herons may be found in damp environments with dense vegetation, such as marshes, bogs, 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, insects, spiders, crustaceans, snails, amphibians, reptiles, and rodents make up the Green Heron’s diet. Rather of wading, they usually hunt from land by perched on sticks over the water.
Green Heron nests are built in the treetops above water, but they may also be placed on the ground, hidden beneath vegetation.
Females lay two eggs per day, in 2-day intervals, on average. Only when the final egg is deposited does incubation begin, and it lasts around twenty days. When they hatch, they both nourish their young.
Fun Facts: Bait, such as bread, feathers, twigs, and leaves are used by green herons for foraging. (Davis and Kushlan, 1994) This is one of the few bird species that use tools.
4. Black-crowned Night-Heron
Black-crowned Night-Herons are most often seen in Indiana from April to October, despite sightings all year. Just 1% of summer checklists include them.
The typical description of the heron family does not include Black-crowned Night-Herons, or simply Night Herons. The beak, neck, and legs are all shorter than those of other species.
The black caps of adult Black-crowned Night-herons are shaped like 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. Underneath, they’re white, but on the rear end, they’re black. Their feet and legs are yellow in color.
The head and back of the bird become glossy blue-green during the breeding season, with two or three white feathers appearing on the crown. The legs and feet turn red or pink, as does the lores.
The overall color of juveniles is dull grayish-brown with streaking 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. They breed in the United States and Canada before moving south in North America. Others may be seen all year along the shore.
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 house these animals.
The males begin building nests for selecting their mates, which are usually constructed in bushes or trees, in preparation for the females.
After that, the female will deposit up to seven eggs every two days. For around twenty-four days after the eggs are deposited, both parents begin to incubate them. Over the next three weeks, the parents will look after their children.
Fun Fact: For more than a century, the National Zoo in Washington, DC has hosted a colony of Black-crowned Night-herons during the summer.
5. Little Blue Heron
From April through October, Little Blue Herons may be seen in Indiana, but July and August are the busiest months. At this moment, 1% of checklists have them.
Little Baby Blue Herons are bigger than you think. With lengthy, stretched bodies, they range in size from medium to huge. With dangling feathers across the nape, their heads and necks have a purplish tint.
During the breeding season, their eyes turn gray-green and are pale yellow. 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 have black to grey-green legs that are lengthy.
Before becoming a combination of dark gray, blue, and white, Juvenile Little Blue Herons are completely white throughout 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)
Little Blue Herons breed in the eastern US before heading south, but those along the Gulf Coast and Mexico continue to do so throughout the year.
Little Blue Herons may be seen in marshes, ponds, streams, lagoons, tidal flats, canals, ditches, fish hatcheries, or flooded fields near water.
In comparison to other herons, Little Blue Herons forage more gracefully. They simply 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 make up the diet of Little Blue Herons. Adults forage on their own, but juveniles prefer to mix with others.
Little Blue Heron nests are typically sticks, and they’re built in colonies with other herons. Up to six eggs are laid 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 gain added cover against predators because of their white coloring, which allows them to blend in with Snowy Egrets.
6. American Bittern
From April through July, American Bitterns are seen in Indiana at a rate of 1% on checklists.
In the spring of the American Bittern, you may hear strange watery boom calls long before you see them if you’re lucky. Here are a few of them:
The Heron family includes American Bitterns, which are plump, medium-sized birds.
Because of their brown striped and mottled patterning, as well as their capacity to stay still amid the reeds with their head raised, they resemble the reeds they conceal in.
They have short legs and yellow eyes that turn orange during their 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.
Shallow freshwater marshes and wetlands with tall reeds are virtually home to American Bitterns.
Look for them near the coarse vegetation along the shores of lakes and ponds.
Fish, crustaceans, insects, amphibians, and small mammals make up the American Bitterns’ diet. They wait quietly and motionlessly among the reeds, stalking their prey until they approach them closely enough to pounce on them with their beaks.
Watery nests of American Bitterns may be discovered among coarse vegetation in the water. Females pick a location for the nest and construct it with available reeds, sedges, cattails, and other plants.
They incubate seven eggs for around twenty-six days before laying them up. The young are fed directly into their beaks by the ladies after they are hatched. They leave the nest after two weeks and are fully fledged in six to seven weeks.
Fun Fact: Like the reeds that cover them to conceal themselves, American Bitterns point upwards and sway gently from side to side.
7. Snowy Egret
From April through mid-November, snowy egrets may be seen throughout Indiana during the summer, however they are most often seen from August through September during their autumn migration. At this moment, they are found in 3% of checklists.
Little all-white herons called snowy egrets, as their name suggests. Yellow irises, a long, black beak, long, black legs, and brilliant yellow toes characterize them. They have a long beak and black skin around their eyes.
Long, lacey feathers grow on their heads, necks, and backs during the breeding season. During courtship, their lores, or facial skin, turn reddish-pink, and their toes turn orange-red.
During aggressive encounters, these regions of their bodies become brilliantly red, which is interesting.
Adults have head plumes, while juveniles lack them. Their bills and legs are also lighter in color, with lores and legs that are more greenish-yellow in tone.
- 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 throughout the United States. In Mexico, Central and South America, they stay throughout the year.
Snowy Egrets may be found in marshes, riverbanks, lakesides, pools, salt marshes, and estuaries in shallow, damp environments. They like swamp woods with protective trees and plants for their nesting.
Fish, crustaceans, snails, frogs, and crayfish are all hunted by snowy egrets in shallow water. They may rest quietly until prey comes to them or, alternatively, they may agitate the water to bring their meal to the surface.
Males select Snowy Egret nests. They chose a spot and put on a full show to entice their potential partners. The males continue to offer sticks, sedges, or reeds to the females while they are constructing the nest.
In trees or disguised in shrubs on the ground, nests are usually found. The female lays two to six eggs, with both parents sharing the duty of incubating them. The average incubation period is twenty-four days.
Fun Fact: Because of its exquisite white head feathers, which were often used as a hat ornament or accessory, snowy egrets were nearly wiped off the face of the earth.
8. Least Bittern
From April through October, least bitterns can be found in Indiana, although they are not particularly common.
The smallest herons in the Americas, least bitterns are difficult to locate amid the reeds, but you may hear them first.
With a black head and yellow beak, they are brown and white in hues. The reeds are gripped with their long toes and claws.
Females and juveniles have lighter backs and crowns, but they are similar to males.
- Ixobrychus exilis
- Length: 11 – 14 in (28 – 36 cm)
- Weight: 3 oz (85 g)
- Wingspan: 16 – 18 in (41 – 46 cm)
The Bitterns’ standard habitat is Europe and Africa, but they may venture north into Canada on occasion.
Least Bitterns may be found in thick freshwater and brackish marshland, which are surrounded by many tall cattails and reeds. When they sit on reeds, look for them.
They’ll stiffen up, raise their bills towards the sky, and sway in tandem with the reeds as soon as they detect danger.
Little fish, frogs, tadpoles, salamanders, slugs, dragonflies, aquatic bugs, and occasionally mice are among the foods of Least Bitterns. They situate themselves on the reeds, twisting and turning like gymnasts to reach their intended prey.
The female of the Least Bitterns builds well-concealed platforms made out of cattails and marsh growth. Parents incubate her seven eggs for around twenty days, which she lays up to. They then regurgitate food to feed newly hatched chicks.
Fun Fact: Long necks characterize Least Bitterns, who most often remain in a hunchbacked manner.
9. Cattle Egret
In Indiana, Cattle Egrets are only seen during certain times of the year, though they have been sighted from April to November.
Cattle Egrets use a clever method of catching their prey…they stand on top of the backs of cattle, which causes the prey to move and disturb the ground.
Cattle Egrets feature white bodies and orange-brown patchings on their heads, necks, and backs. They are tiny, short-necked egrets.
Their eyes and face skin are yellow. They feature tiny yellow beaks and greenish-black legs. Both men and women have a similar appearance.
During the breeding season, Cattle Egret feathers brighten and change hue, becoming more brilliant on legs and head.
Their pale orange patches darken during the breeding season. At the height of their courting, their bills, legs, and irises become bright red; 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 across the globe, however those in Mexico’s south, the Gulf Coast, and southwestern US states stay throughout the year.
Those who breed further north, mostly in the eastern United States, move south after breeding.
Cattle Egrets may be seen in native plains, rangeland, agricultural land, and rice land wherever there is hoofed cattle.
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 also places where they may be found.
Insects, mostly grasshoppers, crickets, flies, beetles, and moths make up the bulk of Cattle Egrets’ diets. Spiders, frogs, small snakes, lizards, earthworms, and fish are among the animals they eat.
Cattle Egret nests are generally built in woodlands near lakes or rivers, in marshes, or on tiny islands. They’re made of sticks and reeds and are usually arranged in colonies.
The female produces up to nine eggs, which they incubate for around twenty-five days. The young take approximately 45 days to fledge and become completely independent of their parents, if they are lucky.
Fun Fact: By having binocular vision for judging distance to capture prey on land rather than correcting for light refraction while feeding in water, the Cattle Egret’s eyes have evolved to foraging on land.
10. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
In Indiana, yellow-crowned night-herons are only seen during the breeding season, which runs from April to October.
The crowns of adult Yellow-crowned Night Herons are yellow, and two plumes extend from their heads. They have black bills that are rather large. The rest of their skulls are black, with a little white patch on the sides below their eyes.
Their eyes become orange, then red, as they mature.
Their wings have a scaled pattern and their bodies are gray-blue. During the breeding season, their legs grow longer and turn a vivid coral, pink, or red color.
Grayish-brown with white streaks and patches, juveniles start out grayish-brown all over. They take three years 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 moving south, yellow-crowned night-herons breed mostly in the southern United States. Throughout Mexico, the Caribbean, and northern South America, they stay throughout the year.
In coastal areas with a lot of crustaceans, shallow waters, and solid edges on which to feed, you may find Yellow-crowned Night-herons at daybreak and dusk.
Crabs and crayfish make up the majority of Yellow-crowned Night-herons’ diets. Fish, insects, worms, mollusks, lizards, snakes, rats, and birds are among the animals that they eat. Little prey can be devoured quickly by them.
Crabs are frequently killed by being sliced open or dismembered.
Yellow-crowned Night-herons often create tiny, friable colonies, although they always prefer to create nests near water. Both parents construct the nests from soft sticks and twigs gathered from grass, leaves, or moss.
After that, she deposits up to eight eggs and they spend three weeks incubating them together. The chicks are fed through regurgitation after they hatch. They fledge after a month and can fly independently at fifty days.
Fun Fact: The eastern equine encephalomyelitis (EEE) virus, which can kill horses and humans, is carried by the yellow-crowned night-heron.
11. Tricolored Heron
In Indiana, Tricolored Herons are recognized as an accidental species and are uncommon. In 2021, they were last seen near the Goose Pond Fish & Wildlife Area Visitor Center.
The white belly and neck stripe of a Tricolored Heron distinguishes it from other herons.
Adults that are not breeding have a mixture of blue, purple, and white feathers. Their bills are black with a yellowish or greyish tint. Yellow or olive green is the color of their legs and feet.
Adults with non-breeding plumage have blue-gray, purple, and white feathers mixed together. Yellowish or greyish in color, with a black tip, their bills are yellowish or greyish. Yellow or olive green are the hues of their legs and feet.
The base of the bill of breeding adults becomes blue, as well as thin, white feathers extending from the back of their heads. On their necks and backs, they feature finer feathers. Their legs, too, turn crimson in color.
In particular, the neck, upper breasts, upper back, and wings of juveniles are more reddish-brown.
- Egretta tricolor
- Length: 24 – 26 in (61 – 66 cm)
- Weight: 14.6 oz (414 g)
- Wingspan: 36 in (91 cm)
Herons of different colors may be seen along the Gulf Coast, Mexico, and northern South America throughout the year. Further north along the Atlantic Coast, those who breed move south.
Tricolored Herons may be found in freshwater and brackish marshes, as well as coastal tidal pools and swamps, where they can be found.
Tricolored Herons are fiercely protective of their feeding sites and feed alone. Other wading birds that want to feed in their area and enjoy eating tiny fish, frogs, crustaceans, and insects will be driven away by them.
They’ll be stalking, chasing, standing, and waiting for their victim to appear. Before striking, they crouch low in the water, with their bellies pressed to the surface and their necks bent forward.
Tricolored Heron nests are constructed from sticks and placed in trees and shrubs in colonies. After three weeks of incubation, the eggs hatch, and the female lays three to five eggs. Both parents share in the care. They also nurse the newborn together.
Fun Fact: The only dark-colored heron with a white belly, the Tricolored Heron was formerly known as the Louisiana heron.
12. Reddish Egret
In Indiana, Reddish Egrets are considered an endangered species that may be introduced. They were last spotted near Miller Beach in 2006 and are extremely rare in the state.
Reddish Egrets have some of the most amazing birds to see because of their dark pink and grayish-blue hues, fast pace, and ability to capture fish.
Reddish Egrets are actually divided into dark and light variants, with white variants being uncommon.
Blue-gray bodies and cinnamon-colored 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, with a dark skin around (lores).
Adults of both sexes may mate with either morph, as well as juveniles.
- Egretta rufescens
- Length: 27 – 32 in (69 – 81 cm)
- Weight: 15.9 oz (451 g)
- Wingspan: 46 in (117 cm)
The Gulf Coast, East Coast, and Mexico through northern South America are home to Reddish Egrets all year.
In open marine flats and shorelines, you may spot Reddish Egrets. Marshes, shallow bays, and lagoons are also home to them.
Reddish Egrets often feed and forage alone. In the hopes of catching fish, they cross shallow and flooded flats. They immediately stab the fish with their beaks after they succeed in frightening them up.
Reddish Egret nests are often found in clusters and constructed of sticks by both parents. These are often found on islands with nearby feeding grounds.
The female lays up to seven eggs, which take around twenty-five days to hatch. Even after they leave the nest, they both care for the young and will feed them for up to nine weeks.
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 Indiana In Summer And Winter
Checklists are a fantastic way to determine which birds are common in your region. During the summer and winter in Indiana, these tables show which herons are most frequently seen on ebird checklists.
Herons in Indiana in summer:
Great Blue Heron 27.4%
Green Heron 8.6%
Great Egret 7.0%
Black-crowned Night-Heron 1.0%
Least Bittern 0.7%
American Bittern 0.5%
Little Blue Heron 0.2%
Snowy Egret 0.2%
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron 0.2%
Cattle Egret 0.2%
Tricolored Heron <0.1%
Herons in Indiana in winter:
Great Blue Heron 9.6%
Great Egret 0.1%
Black-crowned Night-Heron 0.1%
American Bittern <0.1%
Green Heron <0.1%
Cattle Egret <0.1%