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

In Maryland, eleven of the seventeen species of herons that live in North America have been seen. There are two more that are uncommon or unintentional. These long-legged birds may be identified and their information studied with this guide.

Herons, which like water of all types, may be found around both salty and freshwater ponds in your garden.

Yet, many of your fish herons are protected, thus a net is the best option if you are having trouble.

Herons prefer to hunt alone, either by standing perfectly still and waiting or by dashing about to stir up the prey, and they often nest in large colonies called heronries.

A group of herons is referred to as a “rookery,” a “battery,” a “hedge,” a “siege,” and even a bunch of herons!

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

13 Species Of Heron In Maryland

1. Great Blue Heron

In Maryland, Great Blue Herons may be seen all year, and they are very common. In the state’s summer and winter checklists, they’re found in 22% of bird watcher’s checklists.

The Great Blue Heron is the largest heron native to North America, and it is a very big bird.

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

They have grayish-blue bodies and long gray legs, with a long gray neck with black and white streaking in the front.

  • Ardea herodias
  • Length: 46 – 52 in (117 – 132 cm)
  • Weight: 128 oz (3628 g)
  • Wingspan: 77 – 82 in (196 – 208 cm)

Most US states have Great Blue Herons throughout the year, but those that breed in the Mid-West and Canada go south during migration.

In Florida, the Great Blue Heron is known as the Great White Heron due to its white morph subspecies.

Great Blue Herons may be found in a variety of wetland settings. Fresh and saltwater marshes, mangrove swamps, flooded marshes, lake borders, and shorelines are all possible habitats for them.

Fish, frogs, salamanders, shrimps, crabs, dragonflies, grasshoppers, and other aquatic invertebrates make up the primary diet of Great Blue Herons.

When wading or standing in water, they capture their prey. They may also dive into the water, jump feet-first from perches, or float on the water’s surface.

Great Blue Heron colonies are located high in the trees, near to water, where they build nests. Twigs and sticks are used to construct the nests, which are then lined with softer material.

Since Great Blue Herons reuse their nests, they may expand and develop them over time by repairing and refurbishing them.

The female deposits two to seven eggs after that. For roughly four weeks, both parents care for the eggs at the same time.

Fun Fact: With their heads thrown back and their wings stretched out, Great Blue Herons defend their feeding area with spectacular displays.

2. Green Heron

From April to October, Green Herons are most visible in Maryland, where they spend the breeding season. They’re found on 10% of summer checklists.

The glossy green-black coloring of Green Herons’ crowns, crests, backs, and wings makes them stand out against the background, but up close you can see how they seem hunched and dark.

During the breeding season, their bills turn black, with a two-toned top and a yellow bottom. Their iris and legs also change color, from yellow to orange.

Chestnut or maroon are their heads, necks, and breasts. The central stripe on the front of their necks is white. Gray bellies can be seen on both sexes.

Browner in color, with black caps and a crested black juvenile.

  • Butorides virescens
  • Length: 18 – 22 in (46 – 56 cm)
  • Weight: 9.17 oz (260 g)
  • Wingspan: 25 – 26 in (64 – 66 cm)

Before heading south, Green Herons breed mostly in the eastern United States and the Pacific Coast. Those, however, are present year-round along the Gulf Coast, the Caribbean, and Mexico.

Green Herons may be found in marshes, lakes, ponds, and other wet environments with thick vegetation. They may remain in dry woods or orchards if there are water sources nearby, even though they prefer coastal and inland wetlands.

Little fish, insects, spiders, crustaceans, snails, amphibians, reptiles, and rodents make up the Green Herons’ diet. Rather than wading, they hunt from the beach by perched on sticks over the water.

Green Heron nests are formed in the trees over water, however they may also be found on the ground, concealed under vegetation.

Females lay two-day intervals of six eggs, which are placed in a cluster. The final egg is laid, and the parents begin incubating immediately. It takes about twenty days for both parents to incubate. When their eggs hatch, both parents feed their young.

Fun Facts:  Like bread, feathers, twigs, and leaves, green herons are one of the few bird species that use tools for foraging.

3. Great Egret

From March through November, Great Egrets may be found in Maryland, and they make up 6% of summer checklists. Several, however, may be seen throughout the year in the state.

Males have bright green facial skin and long, wispy feathers (aigrettes) that protrude from their backs to their tails during courting, exactly as a peacock extends its tail. Great Egrets are at their best during the breeding season.

They are Great White Herons because to their enormous size. They are completely white. Common egrets are the names for them. These huge birds have long, black legs and feet and dagger-like, broad, brilliant yellow beaks.

Males, ladies, and juveniles of both sexes have the same appearance.

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

The global range of Great Egrets is enormous. Those residing in the southern and coastal United States stay there throughout the year, whereas those living farther inland go south.

Great Egrets may be found in fish ponds as well as freshwater and saltwater marshes and tidal flats.

Fish, frogs, tiny mammals, crustaceans, and insects make up the main part of the Great Egret diet. You’ll observe Great Egrets stand still on the water, waiting for their prey to arrive and then strike it with their long bills once it does.

Great Egret colonies have nests. To keep the nests safe from predators such as raccoons, they are usually placed high up in trees, preferably on islands.

Marsh plant sticks, twigs, and stems are used to create them. Females lay up to six eggs, which are incubated for approximately twenty-five days by both parents.

Fun Fact: Because of its long white feathers (aigrettes), the Great Egret was practically wiped out. They were primarily used to decorate ladies’ hats and were nearly hunted to extinction.

4. Snowy Egret

From April through October, snowy egrets may be seen in Maryland during the breeding season, and 3% of summer checklists record their presence.

Little all-white herons known as snowy egrets. Their irises are yellow, and their skin is around the eye is long, with a black beak and black legs. They have bright yellow feet.

Long, lacy feathers grow on their heads, necks, and backs during the breeding season. During courting, their lores or face skin become reddish-pink, and their toes become orange-red.

Surprisingly, during aggressive encounters, these parts of their bodies turn bright red.

Adults have head plumes, but juveniles do not. Lores and legs are more greenish-yellow, and the colors on their bills and legs are also lighter.

  • 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 states. In Mexico, Central, and South America, they live throughout the year.

Snowy Egrets may be found in marshes, riverbanks, lakesides, pools, salt marshes, and estuaries. They prefer shallow marshland environments. They prefer hammocks with cover trees and shrubs for breeding.

Fish, crustaceans, snails, frogs, and crayfish are hunted by snowy egrets in shallow water. They may rest quietly until prey comes to them, or they may stir the water to bring their meal to the surface. This makes it simpler for them to capture.

Males select the nests of Snowy Egrets. They choose a site and begin to attract mates by displaying themselves entirely. Males continue to offer sticks, sedges, or reeds when they couple up, while the females creates the nest.

Nests are generally found on the ground, hidden in shrubs. Both parents care for their eggs, which the female lays two to six at a time. The average incubation period is twenty-four days.

Fun Fact: Because of their beautiful white head feathers, which were ideal for ladies’ hats, snowy egrets were nearly exterminated.

5. Black-crowned Night-Heron

From mid-March to November, black-crowned night-herons may be found in Maryland, where they account for 2% of summer checklists.

The typical description of the heron family does not apply to Black-crowned Night-Herons, also known as Night Herons. Its bill, neck, and legs are all shorter than those of the other species.

The black caps of adult Black-crowned Night-herons stretch from a white line over their black bills.

The lores (the front of the eye, towards the beak) are green-blue, while their eyes are red. The back is darker than the rest of the body. Yellow is the color of their legs and feet.

Two or three white feathers appear on the crown during the breeding season, and the black coloring of the head and back changes to a glossy blue-green. Legs and feet become red or pink, and the lores turn black as well.

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)

The range of Black-crowned Night-herons extends across the globe. Before migrating south, they breed in North America, especially in the United States and Canada. Along the coasts, some of them may be found all year.

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 used to rehabilitate them.

Black-crowned Night-herons are night feeders that eat everything from crayfish to fish to even turtles or worms.

In preparation for choosing their mates, Black-crowned Night-heron males construct nests in bushes or trees, which are started by the males.

After that, the female will deposit up to seven eggs over a two-day period. For roughly twenty-four days after the eggs are deposited, both parents begin to incubate them. During roughly three weeks, the parents will look after their youngster.

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.

6. Little Blue Heron

From April to October, Little Blue Herons are seen in Maryland during the breeding season, and they make up 1% of summer checklists.

Little Blue Herons, despite their name, are actually quite big. With long, extended 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 become gray-green, which are pale yellow. They have two-toned bills that are dagger-like in appearance and have black tips. Slate-blue is the color of their skin. Long, black to gray-green legs with a thick body.

Before becoming a combination of dark gray, blue, and white, juvenile Little Blue Herons are totally 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)

Before heading south, Little Blue Herons breed in the eastern United States, but those in the Gulf Coast and Mexico stay throughout the year.

Little Blue Herons may be seen around water, in bogs, marshes, ponds, streams, lagoons, tidal flats, canals, ditches, and fish hatcheries.

In comparison to other herons, Little Blue Herons forage in a more graceful manner. 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 Little Blue Heron’s diet. Adults prefer to go it alone, whereas juveniles prefer to mix with other groups.

Little Blue Heron nests are typically constructed of sticks and are built in colonies with other herons. Up to six eggs are laid by the female. The incubation period ranges from twenty-four to twenty-four days for both parents.

Fun Fact: Juvenile Little Blue Herons’ presence among Snowy Egrets allows them to acquire more fish and offer additional protection against predators because of their white coloring.

7. Tricolored Heron

During the breeding season, tricolored herons can be found in Maryland, but they are most common between July and September. At this time, they can be found in up to 3% of checklists.

The white belly and neck stripe of a Tricolored Heron distinguishes it from other herons.

The feathers of non-breeding adults are blue-gray, purple, and white. Their bills are black with a yellowish or greyish tint. Yellow or olive green legs and feet

The back of the head of breeding adults is likewise covered in thin, white feathers, and their beak turns blue. In their necks and backs, they have finer feathers. Their legs, too, turn reddish in color.

The neck, upper breasts, upper back, and wings of juveniles are considerably reddish-brown in color.

  • Egretta tricolor
  • Length: 24 – 26 in (61 – 66 cm)
  • Weight: 14.6 oz (414 g)
  • Wingspan: 36 in (91 cm)

On the Gulf Coast, Mexico, and northern South America, tricolored herons spend the year. Those that breed farther north in the Atlantic Coast migrate south.

Tricolored Herons can be found in marshes, estuaries, and coastal tidal pools or swamps across both freshwater and brackish water.

Solitary feeders, tricolored Herons are protective of their feeding habitat. Other wading birds that want to eat small fish, frogs, crustaceans, and insects will be driven away from their territory.

Stalking, chasing, standing, and waiting for their victim are all expected behaviors. Before striking, they crouch low in the water with their bellies touching the surface and their necks drawn in.

Tricolored Heron nests are made of sticks and are found in trees and shrubs, arranged in colonies. After laying three to five eggs, the female leaves them, and both parents care for them for three weeks before they hatch. They also give milk to the babies.

Fun Fact: The only dark-colored heron with a white belly, the Tricolored Heron was originally known as the Louisiana Heron.

8. Cattle Egret

From April to mid-October, Cattle Egrets are most often seen in Maryland, although they are more frequent from mid-June to mid-September.

Cattle Egrets have a clever technique of capturing their dinner…they stand on the backs of cattle and eat the startled prey as the cattle graze and rumble.

Cattle Egrets are small white-feathered egrets with pale orange-brown patches on their heads, neck, and backs. They have short necks and a short beak.

Their irises and skin are yellow, as are their cheeks. Their bills are small, yellow, and their legs are greenish-black. Males and females have a lot in common.

During the breeding season, Cattle Egrets change color and become brighter, especially 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 turn 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)

Cattle Egrets may be found across the globe, but those in Mexico, the Gulf Coast, and southern US states stay year-round.

Nonetheless, when breeding occurs further north, individuals migrate south, mostly to the eastern United States.

Cattle Egrets may be found in native grasslands, pastureland, agricultural land, and paddy land wherever hoofed animals are present.

They do venture into the edges of aquatic habitats, 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 among the places where they may be found.

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

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

The female may lay up to nine eggs, which take around twenty-five days to hatch. The young take around 45 days to fledge, become completely independent of their parents, and reach adulthood.

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

9. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

During Maryland’s breeding season, Yellow-crowned Night-Herons may be seen. They arrive in March and begin migrating in September.

The crowns of adult Yellow-crowned Night Herons are yellow, with two plumes extending from the head. Their black bills are a testament to their bulk. Their remaining heads are black, and below their eyes they have a little white patch.

As they grew up, their eyes became red, starting with a yellow coloration and ending with an orange coloration.

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

Grayish-brown juveniles with white streaks and patches cover their bodies. It takes three years for them to mature.

  • 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. Throughout Mexico, the Caribbean, and northern South America, they are present all year.

In coastal places with a lot of crustaceans, shallow waters, and substantial edges where to feed, Yellow-crowned Night-herons may be seen at dawn and dusk.

Crustaceans like 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 other foods they consume. Little prey may be devoured instantly by them.

Crabs are often killed by being dismembered or stabbed.

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

After that, for about three weeks, she lays up to eight eggs and they incubate together. The chicks are fed through regurgitation when they hatch. They fledge after around a month, and at fifty days, they can fly on their own.

Fun Fact: The deadly mosquito-borne illness eastern equine encephalomyelitis (EEE) virus can kill horses and people, and yellow-crowned night-herons may transmit it.

10. Least Bittern

Maryland’s least bitterns are only seen from April to September, and they are not particularly frequent.

In the reeds, you may hear the Least Bitterns, which are the smallest herons in North America and very difficult to see.

Their bill is yellow, and they are brown and white in color with a black cap and top. They grip the reeds with their long toes and claws.

Females and juveniles have lighter backs and crowns than 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 habitat is Europe and Africa, although they may wander into North America on occasion.

Least Bitterns may be found in thick freshwater and brackish marshlands, dominated by tall cattails and reeds. When they perch on reeds, look for them.

They’ll immediately stiffen, raise their bills to the sky, and sway in time with the reeds when they sense danger.

Little fish, frogs, tadpoles, salamanders, slugs, dragonflies, aquatic bugs, and occasionally mice make up the menu of the Least Bitterns. They sit atop the reeds, performing acrobatic contortions to reach their prey on the surface of the water, in order to catch them.

The female of the Least Bitterns builds well-concealed nests from cattails and marsh plants, which are well-concealed platforms. Both parents incubate the eggs for around twenty days after they are laid. They then regurgitate food to feed newly hatched chicks.

Fun Fact: The necks of least bitterns are long, and they typically rest in a curved manner.

11. American Bittern

During migration in April, American Bitterns are frequently seen in Maryland, however they are not often seen here.

In the spring of the American Bittern, you might hear their unusual watery boom cries long before you see them if you’re lucky. Below you’ll find some more information about them.

The Heron family includes American Bitterns, which are hefty, medium-sized birds.

Because of their brown striped and mottled patterning, as well as their capacity to remain motionless amid the reeds with their head tilted upward, they resemble the reeds they hide 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 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 home to American Bitterns almost exclusively.

To discover 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 American Bitterns’ diet. They wait quietly and still among the reeds, quietly waiting for their prey to approach until they move quickly to capture them in their bills.

On the water, among coarse vegetation, nests of American Bitterns may be found. Females pick a location in the marsh where they will build their nest, using reeds, sedges, cattails, and other plants.

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

Fun Fact: Similarly to the reeds that conceal them, American Bitterns tip upwards and sway gently from side to side.

12. Reddish Egret

In Maryland, Reddish Egrets are considered a close-to-threatened species, with the last sighting in 2020 in the Deal Island State Wildlife Management Area.

This is one of the best birds to watch because of Reddish Egrets’ dark pink and grayish-blue colors, as well as their frantic hunting for food.

They are actually available in dark and light variants, but white variants are uncommon. They are referred to as Reddish Egrets.

The bodies, necks, and breasts of dark morph Reddish Egrets are blue-gray. Pink on the outside, with a black tip on the inside.

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 will also mate with either morph, and juveniles are also dark or white.

The Gulf Coast, East Coast, and Mexico through northern South America are home to Reddish Egrets 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 most commonly seen foraging and feeding alone. In order to catch fish, they cross shallow, flooded flats. They immediately stab fish with their beaks after they’ve successfully scared them up.

Reddish Egret nests are commonly found in colonies, with both parents constructing a platform of sticks. They’re usually found on small islands with plentiful fishing opportunities.

The female lays seven eggs, which are incubated for twenty-five days by both parents. When they leave the nest, they both worry about their 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, puffing out his feathers and standing out on his head, neck, and back.

13. Little Egret

In Maryland, Little Egrets are a rare species. They’ve only been spotted around North Beach in 2021 and are extremely rare in the state.

All-white bodies are found in Little Egrets. Long, slender necks, black bills with yellow eyes, yellow facial skin (lores), black legs, and yellow feet characterize them.

Little Egrets’ backs, lower throats, and backs are covered with thin feathers during the breeding season. At the height of their courtship, facial skin becomes red, and their feet become pink or red.

Dark morphs with a blue-gray tint rather than white are also available.

Juveniles are more grayish/brownish and have greenish-black legs and duller yellow feet than adults, but they look the same.

  • 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 recognized as casual visitors to the United States and Canada, with a usual range of Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Little Egrets may be found in lakeshores, riverbanks, ponds, lagoons, marshes, and canals, but they also hunt in fish ponds.

Little Egrets either stand still and wait for fish to come or disrupt the water to frighten them away as their main source of nutrition.

Nests of Little Egrets are usually made of platform sticks and built high up in the trees or shrubs, in reed beds or mangroves. Males usually find and carry the material for building, and the females do the construction.

Little Egret nests are frequently constructed on high up in the trees or shrubs, on reed beds or mangroves. They’re usually built of platform sticks. The material for building is usually found by males, and the building is done by females.

The female produces six eggs, which her parents care for for around three weeks while they incubate them. For around two weeks, both parents are responsible for their child. Six weeks after they fledge, they fledge.

Fun Fact: Because of the popularity of feathers for ornamenting hats during that era, the Little Egrets were once thought to be extinct in Ireland and Great Britain.

How Frequently Herons Are Spotted In Maryland In Summer And Winter

Checklists can be used to learn which species are most often seen in your region. On checklists on ebird in Maryland throughout the summer and winter, these lists display which herons are most often seen.

Herons in Maryland in summer:

Great Blue Heron 22.4%

Green Heron 10.1%

Great Egret 6.1%

Snowy Egret 3.6%

Black-crowned Night-Heron 2.5%

Little Blue Heron 1.3%

Cattle Egret 0.9%

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron 0.8%

Tricolored Heron 0.7%

Least Bittern 0.6%

American Bittern 0.1%

Little Egret <0.1%

Reddish Egret <0.1%

Herons in Maryland in winter:

Great Blue Heron 15.7%

Great Egret 0.3%

Black-crowned Night-Heron 0.3%

American Bittern 0.1%

Tricolored Heron <0.1%

Snowy Egret <0.1%

Little Blue Heron <0.1%

Green Heron <0.1%

Cattle Egret <0.1%

Least Bittern <0.1%

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron <0.1%

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