All Herons In Kentucky (ID, Photos, When To Spot)

In Kentucky, ten of the 17 species of herons that are found in North America have been recorded. There are two more that are uncommon or accidental. These long-legged birds may be identified and learned about in this guide.

Herons are water-loving birds that can be found in ponds, lakes, and even in your backyard pond for a quick snack.

Yet, many of your fish herons are protected, so a net is your best option if you’re having trouble catching them.

Herons prefer to hunt alone, standing motionless and waiting for the prey or dashing about to stir it up. They often nest in huge colonies known as heronries.

A collection of herons is known by a variety of names, including “rookery,” “battery,” “hedge,” and others.

You should learn more about the ducks, swans, and pelicans that you may see in Kentucky if you like spotting waterbirds.

12 Species Of Heron In Kentucky

1. Great Blue Heron

Kentucky is home to Great Blue Herons, who can be found throughout the year. Summer checklists and winter checklists submitted by birdwatchers for the state contain them in 19% of their samples.

The biggest heron native to North America, Great Blue Herons are huge, magnificent birds.

Their face is white, with a black crest or plume that extends from the front of their eyes to the back of their heads. Yellow-orangish is the color of their bills.

Long gray necks, black and white streaking in the front, grayish-blue bodies, and long gray legs characterize them.

  • 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, while breeding birds migrate south to the Mid-West and Canada.

In Florida, the Great White Heron is a white morph form of the Great Blue Heron.

Great Blue Herons may be found in a variety of wetland environments. 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 capture their prey. Hovering over water, diving into it, jumping feet-first from perches, and floating on the surface are all examples of how they can do it.

Colonies of Great Blue Herons may be found high in trees near water, where they build nests. Twigs and sticks are used to build the nests, which are then lined with softer material.

Great Blue Herons may expand and rebuild their nests over time, lengthening the life of the nests.

After that, the female lays two to seven eggs. For around four weeks, both parents incubate the eggs at equal times.

Fun Fact: With their heads thrown back and wings spread out, Great Blue Herons defend their feeding grounds with dramatic displays.

2. Great Egret

The Great Egrets may be seen throughout the year in Kentucky, but from March to November is when they are most plentiful. Summer checklists include them in 6% of the time.

When males have neon 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 gigantic all-white herons, hence they’re commonly known as Great White Herons. Common egrets are the name given to them. These huge birds have dagger-like long, bright yellow beaks and lengthy, black legs and feet. They are white.

Males, females, and juveniles all have the same look.

  • Ardea alba
  • Length: 37 – 41 in (94 – 104cm)
  • Weight: 59.96 oz (1699 g)
  • Wingspan: 54 – 55 in (137 – 140 cm)

The world is home to the Great Egret. Those in the southern and coastal US regions stay throughout the year, but those in more inland regions go south during winter.

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 motionless on the water, waiting and spying for their prey before striking and spearing it with their long bills.

Great Egret colonies have nests. To keep the nests safe from predators like raccoons, they are commonly put high up in trees, particularly 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: Due to their long white feathers (aigrettes), the Great Egret was nearly hunted to extinction. These feathers were primarily utilized to embellish women’s hats.

3. Green Heron

From April through October, Green Herons can be found in Kentucky, and they are seen on 6% of summer checklists.

While the glossy green-black color of the crowns, crests, backs, and wings of green herons is what gives them their name, they appear bent and gloomy from afar. You should get closer to see this.

During the breeding season, their bills turn black and are two-toned, dark on top and yellow at the bottom. Their irises and legs also change color, from yellow to orange.

Chestnut or maroon are the colors of their heads, necks, and breasts. The top half of the neck is striped with a white stripe that runs down the length. Gray is the color of their bellies.

Browner in color, with black heads and a crest, juveniles are

  • 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 mostly in the eastern US and Pacific Coast. Those, however, are widespread throughout the Gulf Coast, the Caribbean, and Mexico.

Green Herons may be found in damp environments with thick 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 majority of the Green Herons’ diet. Rather than wading, they hunt from the shore by perched on sticks over the water.

Green Herons’ nests are built high in the trees above water, but they may also be placed on the ground, disguised under plants.

Females lay two to six eggs every two days, with two days between each. The last egg is laid when the parents start incubation, which takes around twenty days. When their eggs hatch, they both feed their young.

Fun Facts:  The only bird species that uses bait to catch its prey is the Green Heron, which uses bread, feathers, twigs, and leaves. (Davis and Kushlan, 1994).

4. Black-crowned Night-Heron

From April through October, Black-crowned Night-Herons are most frequent in Kentucky, accounting for 2% of all summer checklists.

The typical description of the heron family does not apply to Black-crowned Night-Herons, or simply Night Herons. It has a shorter bill, neck, and legs than other species.

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. They have a white belly and a black back. Yellow is the color of their legs and feet.

The black head and back become glossy blue-green during the breeding season, with two or three white feathers on the crown appearing. The legs and feet turn red or pink, while the lores also turn black.

The overall color 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)

Around the world, Black-crowned Night-herons may be found. Before migrating south, they breed in North America, notably in the United States and Canada. Throughout the coasts, some may be found year-round.

Wetland environments, 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 made using them.

In preparation for selecting their mates, male Black-crowned Night-herons build nests in bushes or trees, which are started by the males.

After that, the female will lay up to seven eggs at two-day intervals. For about twenty-four days, both parents begin to incubate the eggs after they are placed. For roughly three weeks, the parents will look after their kid.

Fun Fact: For more than a century, the National Zoo in Washington, DC has hosted a colony of Black-crowned Night-herons during their summer.

5. Little Blue Heron

From April through October, Little Blue Herons may be seen in Kentucky, however the peak season is July through September.

Little Blue Herons, despite their small size, are quite large. They have long, extended bodies and are medium to large in size. With dangling feathers over the nape, their heads and necks have a purple tint.

During the breeding season, their eyes become gray-green, which are pale yellow. Two-toned – light blue or grayish with black tips – their long, dagger-like bills are two-toned. They have slate-blue skin. Long and black to gray-green, their legs are long.

Before turning a combination of dark gray, blue, and white, Juvenile Little Blue Herons are totally 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 US states, then spend the rest of the year in southern Mexico and southern America.

Little Blue Herons may be seen near water, whether in bogs, marshes, lakes, ponds, streams, lagoons, tidal flats, canals or flooded fields.

In comparison to other herons, Little Blue Herons forage more gracefully. They simply stand and wait in shallow waters for their prey, rather than dashing about across the water.

Fish, frogs, snakes, turtles, spiders, crustaceans, mice, and insects make up the diet of Little Blue Herons. Adults forage individually, whereas juveniles prefer to mix with other youngsters.

Little Blue Herons build nests out of sticks, which are usually found in groups with other herons. Up to six eggs are laid by the female. For up to twenty-four days, both parents share in the incubation.

Fun Fact: Juvenile Little Blue Herons’ presence among Snowy Egrets allows them to catch more fish and gain added protection from predators because of their white coloration.

6. Snowy Egret

From April through October, snowy egrets may be found in Kentucky, with August being the peak month for sightings on this time.

Snowy Egrets are little all-white herons, as their name implies. Long, black bills, long, black legs, and bright yellow feet characterize these birds with yellow irises and skin around their eye.

Little, all-white herons known as snowy egrets. Their irises are yellow, and their cheeks are black. Their beaks and legs are long, and their feet are bright yellow.

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.

During violent encounters, these regions of their bodies likewise become bright red.

Adults and juveniles look a lot alike, but they lack head plumes. Their lores and legs are also greener, and their bills and legs are lighter 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 shore, snowy egrets migrate from all states. Throughout Mexico, Central, and South America, they stay throughout the year.

Snowy Egrets may be found in marshes, riverbanks, lakesides, pools, salt marshes, and estuaries. They prefer shallow, dampland settings. 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 might rest quietly until prey comes to them or they might agitate the water until their prey is easier to grab.

The males select Snowy Egret nests for themselves. They choose a spot and put on a show for their prospective partners. The males continue to offer sticks, sedges, or reeds to the females while they build the nest.

Nests are often found on the ground, hidden in bushes or trees. Both parents take turns incubating their eggs after the female lays two to six eggs. The incubation period is normally twenty-four days.

Fun Fact: Because of their stunning white head feathers, snowy egrets were close to being wiped off the face of the earth. They were a must-have ornament or accessory for women’s hats.

7. Cattle Egret

In Kentucky, Cattle Egrets are uncommon, however they may be seen during the summer months, particularly from May to July.

Cattle Egrets use a clever method of capturing their prey…they stand on the backs of cattle, which enables them to capture the fleeing prey when the cattle move and disturb the ground.

Cattle Egrets are little white-bodied, light orange-brown patches on their heads, necks, and backs. They have short, short-necked heads.

Their irises and cheeks are yellow in color. Their yellow beaks and greenish-black legs are small. Males and femen look much the same.

During the breeding season, Cattle Egrets change color and become brighter, especially on their legs and face.

Their light orange spots turn deeper orange during the breeding season. At the height of their courting, their bills, legs, and irises turn bright 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 across the globe, but they live in Mexico, the Gulf Coast, and southwestern US states throughout the year.

Those, on the other hand, who breed further north, move south after breeding in the eastern US states.

Cattle Egrets may be found on grasslands, paddocks, agricultural fields, and rice fields where hoofed animals are present.

They do venture into the edges of aquatic environments, such as riverbanks, ponds, and shallow marshes. They prefer to stay on land and atop cattle. Golf courses, lawns, sports fields, dumps, and parks are also common places for them to be seen.

Insects, mostly grasshoppers, crickets, flies, beetles, and moths are the main foods of Cattle Egrets. Spiders, frogs, tiny snakes, lizards, earthworms, and fish are among the other animals they consume.

Cattle Egret nests are usually constructed in woodlands near lakes or rivers, in marshes, or on tiny islands. They are made of sticks and reeds and are usually constructed in colonies.

Females deposit up to nine eggs, which take around twenty-five days to hatch. The juvenile grows, fledges, and becomes entirely self-sufficient from their parents in around 45 days.

Fun Fact: Instead of correcting for light refraction when feeding in water, the Cattle Egret’s eyes have adapted to foraging on land by having binocular vision.

8. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

During the summer, from April to September, yellow-crowned night-herons can be found in Kentucky, although they are not particularly frequent.

The crowns of adult Yellow-crowned Night Herons are yellow, and their heads are adorned with two plumes. Their bills are black and are rather large. Their rest of the skulls are black, with little white patches on the sides below their eyes.

As they got older, their eyes became red, and their color changed from yellow to orange to red.

Their wings have a scaled pattern and they have gray-blue bodies. During the breeding season, their legs become coral, pink, or red. They are long and yellow.

Greyish-brown juveniles with white streaks and spots cover their bodies. 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 migrating 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.

In coastal areas with a lot of crustaceans, shallow waters, and interesting edges on which to feed, you may see Yellow-crowned Night-herons at dawn and dusk.

In coastal areas with a high concentration of crustaceans, shallow waters, and appropriate feeding habitat, you may observe Yellow-crowned Night-herons both day and night.

Crustaceans like crabs and crayfish make up the majority of Yellow-crowned Night-heron’s diet. Fish, insects, worms, mollusks, lizards, snakes, rodents, and birds are among the animals they consume. They can devour tiny creatures in a flash.

Crabs’ bodies are frequently dismembered or stabbed.

Little, loose colonies of Yellow-crowned Night-herons are common, but they always build near water. Both parents build the nests, which are made of soft sticks and twigs gathered from grass, leaves, or moss.

Finally, for about three weeks, she lays up to eight eggs and mates with them. The chicks are fed regurgitation when they hatch. They fledge after approximately a month and can fly on their own at fifty days old.

Fun Fact: The eastern equine encephalomyelitis (EEE) virus, which can kill horses and people, is carried by yellow-crowned night-herons.

9. American Bittern

If you’re lucky, you might see American Bitterns passing through Kentucky.

You may hear the weird watery boom cries of the American Bittern long before you see them if you listen carefully in the spring. Below are a few samples of what you can expect.

The Heron family of birds includes American Bitterns, which are fat and medium-sized.

Because of their brown striped and mottled patterning, as well as the fact that they can stay motionless amid the reeds with their head tilted upward, they resemble 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.

Shallow freshwater marshes and wetlands with tall reeds are nearly always home to American Bitterns.

To discover them, keep 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 and silently in the reeds, stalking their prey until they come nearer before swiftly leaping forward to capture them in their bills.

The water, hidden among coarse vegetation, is home to American Bittern nests. Females pick a location and construct their nest with available reeds, sedges, cattails, and other plants.

They incubate seven eggs for around twenty-six days before laying them up. The females feed the chicks directly into their beaks when they are hatched. They leave the nest after two weeks and are fully developed in six to seven weeks.

Fun Fact: Just like the reeds that conceal them, American Bitterns point upwards and sway gently from side to side.

10. Least Bittern

From April through October, Least Bitterns have been observed in Kentucky, although they are not very common.

In the Americas, Least Bitterns are the tiniest herons and may be heard for the first time in the reeds.

They have a black cap and yellow beak, and they are brownish white in color. They have huge toes and claws that help them grip the reeds.

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’ normal range is Europe and Africa, but they may wander into North America on occasion.

Least Bitterns may be found in large cattail and reedy marshes, as well as dense freshwater and brackish marshlands. When they perched on reeds, look for them.

They’ll freeze stiffly, raise their bills to the sky, and sway in unison with the reeds as soon as they perceive danger.

Little fish, frogs, tadpoles, salamanders, slugs, dragonflies, aquatic insects, and occasionally mice make up the diet of the Least Bittern. They lay themselves on the reeds, doing acrobatic contortions in order to reach their target on the water’s surface.

For her nests, the female of Least Bitterns creates well-concealed platforms out of cattails and marsh vegetation. After she lays up to seven eggs, both parents incubate them for around twenty days. After that, they regurgitate food for newly hatched chicks.

11. Tricolored Heron

In Kentucky, Tricolored Herons are classified as an accidental species. They are very uncommon in the state. In 2019, they were last seen around Henderson.

The white belly and neck stripe of Tricolored Herons is easy to see from other herons.

Adults that are not breeding have a mixture of blue-gray, purple, and white feathers. Their bills are black at the tip and have a yellowish or greyish color. Yellow or olive green are the colors of their legs and feet.

The rear of the heads of breeding adults are likewise covered in thin, white feathers, and their bills turn blue towards the base. On their necks and backs, they have more delicate feathers. Their legs, as well as their bodies, turn crimson.

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 all colors may be found along the Gulf Coast, Mexico, and northern South America throughout the year. Those that breed further north move south as they migrate along the Atlantic Coast.

In freshwater and brackish marshes, estuaries, and coastal tidal pools or swamps, you may see Tricolored Herons.

Tricolored Herons are fiercely protective of their feeding territory and feed on their own. Other wading birds that want to feed on their area and devour little fish, frogs, crustaceans, and insects will be chased away by them.

Tricolored Heron nests are built of sticks and placed in clusters in trees and shrubs. The female lays three to five eggs, and the parents spend three weeks together incubating them. They both participate in the process. The young are also fed by both of them.

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 Kentucky, Reddish Egrets are considered a near-threatened species, with the last sighting occurring in 2004.

This is one of the best birds to watch because of Reddish Egrets’ dark pink and grayish-blue hues, as well as their boundless energy in pursuit of fish.

Reddish Egrets come in dark and light morphs, with white morphs being uncommon. They are called Reddish Egrets, however.

The bodies, necks, and breasts of dark morph Reddish Egrets are blue-gray, with a cinnamon tone. Pink with a black tip, their bills are light.

The bodies of white morphs are totally devoid of color. Their eyes are straw yellow, and their legs and feet are blue-black, but they both have darker skin around (lores).

Adults may 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, through East Coast, and throughout Mexico and northern South America, Reddish Egrets may be found all year.

In open marine flats and beaches, you may see Reddish Egrets. Marshes, shallow bays, and lagoons are also home to them.

Reddish Egret nests are frequently found in colonies and constructed of sticks by both parents. They’re typically found on small islands with plentiful fishing grounds.

The female lays seven eggs, which are incubated by both parents for twenty-five days. They will feed their young for up to nine weeks, even while they are away from the nest. They both care for the young.

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 Kentucky In Summer And Winter

Checklists are a fantastic way to discover which birds are frequently seen in your region. The herons that are most often seen on ebird checklists in Kentucky during the summer and winter are shown in these lists.

Herons in Kentucky in summer:

Great Blue Heron 19.7%

Green Heron 6.7%

Great Egret 5.9%

Black-crowned Night-Heron 2.3%

Little Blue Heron 0.6%

Cattle Egret 0.5%

Snowy Egret 0.3%

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron 0.3%

Least Bittern 0.2%

American Bittern <0.1%

Tricolored Heron <0.1%

Herons in Kentucky in winter:

Great Blue Heron 14.3%

Great Egret 0.2%

Black-crowned Night-Heron 0.2%

Green Heron <0.1%

American Bittern <0.1%

Cattle Egret <0.1%

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