Herons In Michigan (ID, Photos, Calls When To Spot)

Michigan has been home to nine of the 17 species of herons that live throughout North America. There are three more that are uncommon or unintentional. This guide will aid you in identifying and understanding these long-legged birds.

Herons, which may spend time peering into your backyard pond for a quick snack, are water-loving birds found in both saltwater and freshwater.

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

Herons, like other birds, prefer to hunt alone by standing motionless and waiting or dashing about to attract the prey. Heronries are large colonies where they nest.

A colony of herons is known as a “rookery,” and a battery is a group of herons that has been sieged. A hedge is a group of herons that has been scattered.

You might want to learn more about the ducks, swans, or pelicans that you may see in Michigan if you like seeing waterbirds.

12 Species Of Heron In Michigan

12 Species Of Heron In Michigan

In northern Michigan, Great Blue Herons may be seen during breeding, but they may be seen all year in the south. Summer checklists from bird watchers for the state include them at 17% and winter checklists from bird watchers include them at 3%.

The Great Blue Heron is North America’s largest heron, and it is a huge, magnificent bird.

From the front of their eyes to the rear of their heads, they have a white face with a black crest or plume. Their oranges and yellows are on their bills.

Its greyish-blue bodies and long grey legs are set off by their long grey necks 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 American states are home to Great Blue Herons, but they migrate south during the breeding season.

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

Great Blue Herons may be found in a variety of wetland habitats. Fresh and saltwater marshes, mangrove swamps, flooded marshes, lake borders, and beaches may all be home to them.

Fish, frogs, salamanders, shrimps, crabs, dragonflies, grasshoppers, and other aquatic insects make up the majority of Great Blue Herons’ diets.

While wading or standing in water, they catch their prey. They may also leap from perches feet-first or float on the water’s surface. Hovering above water, diving into it, and leaping from perches are all options.

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

Great Blue Herons may grow their nests in size over time by recycling them and rebuilding them.

After that, the female lays two to seven eggs. For approximately four weeks, both parents incubate the eggs.

Fun Fact: With their heads thrown back, Great Blue Herons defend their feeding grounds with spectacular wing-outstretched demonstrations.

2. Great Egret

From April to November, Great Egrets can be found in Michigan, but their numbers peak from mid-July to September. Summer checklists include them at a rate of 6%, whereas during migration, they may appear at a rate of 15%.

When males have neon green face skin and long, wispy feathers (aigrettes) extending from their backs to their tails, Great Egrets are at their most beautiful during the breeding season.

These are huge, all-white herons that are known as Great White Herons because of their size. Common egrets are another name for them. These enormous birds feature long, black legs and feet, as well as dagger-like, long bills.

Males, females, and juveniles all have the same appearance when they are not breeding.

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

The worldwide range of Great Egrets is enormous. They stay throughout the year in the southern and coastal United States, but migrate south as time goes on in Canada.

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 the diet of Great Egrets. Great Egrets stand motionless on the water, waiting and scouting for their prey before striking and spearing it with their long bills.

Fish, frogs, small mammals, crustaceans, and insects make up the majority of the diet of Great Egrets. Great Egrets will stand motionless on the water, waiting for and scouting out their prey, before striking it with their long bills and spearing it.

Great Egret colonies are home to nests. To safeguard their nests from predators such as raccoons, they are commonly put 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 at a time.

Fun Fact: The Great Egret was almost hunted to extinction because of its long white feathers (aigrettes).

3. Green Heron

During the breeding season, Green Herons may be found in 7% of summer checklists in Michigan. In April, they arrive, and in October, they begin to migrate.

The glossy green-black color of the crowns, crests, backs, and wings of Green Herons makes them stand out from a distance, but you need to get much closer to appreciate this.

During the breeding season, their bills turn black, with two-toned dark on top and yellow on the bottom. Their iris and legs, like their faces, shift from yellow to orange.

Chestnut or maroon are the colors of their heads, necks, and breasts. The front part of the neck has a white stripe that runs the length of it. Gray is their color of choice.

Browner, with blacker caps and a larger 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 primarily in the eastern United States and the Pacific Coast. The Gulf Coast, the Caribbean, and Mexico, on the other hand, are permanent.

Swamps, marshes, lakes, ponds, and other damp environments with dense vegetation are home to Green Herons. These animals may stay in arid woods or orchards if there are nearby water sources, despite their fondness for coastal and inland wetlands.

Green Herons can be found in damp environments with deep vegetation, such as bogs, marshes, lakes, and ponds. They may remain in dry woods or orchards if there are water sources nearby, though they prefer 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 hunt from the shore by perched on sticks over the water.

Green Heron nests are made of long, slender twigs that are placed high in the trees over water, however they may also be hidden beneath shrubs.

Females lay two days apart and lay up to six eggs at a time. Both parents begin incubating when the final egg is deposited, which takes around twenty days. When their young hatch, they both feed them.

4. Black-crowned Night-Heron

During the breeding season, from April to October, Black-crowned Night-Herons are seen in Michigan, accounting for 1% of summer checklists.

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

Black caps cover the heads of adult Black-crowned Night-herons, which rise 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 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 head and back turn to a glossy blue-green. The legs and feet become red or pink, while the lores turn black.

Adults are a dull grayish-brown color with streaks and spots on the juveniles.

  • 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. They breed in the United States and Canada before going south in North America. They may be seen all year along the coasts.

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 where they’re utilized.

Black-crowned Night-herons eat whatever they can find, including crayfish and fish, as well as turtles or worms. They are night feeders.

The males build nests for Black-crowned Night-herons in bushes or trees, and the females join them to choose their mates.

After that, the female will lay up to seven eggs every two days. Over the next twenty-four days, both parents begin to incubate the eggs after they are placed. For approximately three weeks, the parents will care for their baby.

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

5. American Bittern

In 1% of all summer checklists, American Bitterns are seen. During the breeding season, they can be found mostly in northern Michigan, although some may be seen during migration across the state.

In the spring of the American Bittern, you may hear odd watery boom calls even before you view them, if you’re lucky. Below you’ll find some of the videos…

Herons are solitary birds with a chunky, medium-sized physique. American Bitterns are one of them.

Because of their brown striped and mottled patterning, they resemble the reeds they hide in, and their head is angled up, they appear to be motionless among them.

They have small legs and yellow eyes that change to 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.

In shallow freshwater marshes and wetlands with tall reeds, you’ll find American Bitterns nearly exclusively.

In order to locate them, focus your eyes on the margins of lakes and ponds amid the rough grass.

Fish, crustaceans, insects, amphibians, and small mammals make up the diet of American Bitterns. They wait quietly and motionlessly in the reeds, anticipating their victim to approach, before darting forward quickly to capture them in their bills.

They produce around twenty-six eggs, which are incubated for around twenty-six days. The females feed the chicks directly into their beaks when they are born. They fled the nest after two weeks, and it takes six to seven weeks for them to be completely independent.

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

6. Least Bittern

From April through November, Least Bitterns may be found in Michigan, however they are most frequent from May to August.

In the reeds, you may hear the Least Bitterns before you see them, since they are the smallest herons in North America.

Their yellow beak has a black cap and black top, and they’re brown and white in color. They grip the reeds with their long toes and claws.

Females and juveniles have lighter backs and crowns than males, but they are otherwise similar.

  • Ixobrychus exilis
  • Length: 11 – 14 in (28 – 36 cm)
  • Weight: 3 oz (85 g)
  • Wingspan: 16 – 18 in (41 – 46 cm)

The Bitterns of Little Bitterns are primarily found in Europe and Africa, yet they may be found in North America on occasion.

Least Bitterns may be found in densely vegetated ponds and brackish marshes, where there are plenty of tall cattails and reeds. When they perched on reeds, look for them.

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

Little fish, frogs, tadpoles, salamanders, slugs, dragonflies, aquatic bugs, and occasionally mice are among the foods of the Least Bittern. They situate themselves on the reeds, performing acrobatic contortions to reach their prey on the water’s surface.

The female of the Least Bitterns builds well-concealed nests from cattail and marsh vegetation, which are well-concealed platforms. For around twenty days, both parents incubate the eggs she lays up to seven. They then regurgitate food to feed newly hatched chicks.

Fun Fact: The necks of least Bitterns are long, but they remain bent.

7. Snowy Egret

In Michigan, snowy egrets are uncommon, with just a few sightings here during the summer months of April through October.

Little, all-white herons named snowy egrets, as the name suggests. They have long, black beaks, black legs, and brilliant yellow feet with yellow irises.

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

Surprisingly, during aggressive encounters, these regions of their bodies become bright red.

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

  • Egretta thula
  • Length: 22 – 27 in (56 -69 cm)
  • Weight: 16.75 oz (475 g)
  • Wingspan: 39.4 in (100 cm)

Except for the Gulf Coast and southwest coast, snowy egrets migrate across most US states. Throughout the year, they can be found in Mexico, Central America, and South America.

Snowy Egrets may be found in marshes, riverbanks, lakesides, pools, salt marshes, and estuaries all around the world. Swamp woods with protective trees and plants are their favorite nesting places.

Fish, crustaceans, snails, frogs, and crayfish are among the foods sought by snowy egrets in shallow water. They might rest quietly until prey comes to them or stir the water until it is easier for them to seize their prey.

The males choose the nests of Snowy Egrets. To attract their mates, they choose a location and put on a full display. The males continue to provide sticks, sedges, or reeds for the females as they build the nest when they pair up.

Nesting trees or concealing them on the ground are common locations. Both parents incubate their eggs, which the female lays two to six at a time. The average incubation time is twenty-four days.

Fun Fact: Because of their exquisite white head feathers, snowy egrets were nearly exterminated due to their use as feminine hat decorations or accoutrements.

8. Cattle Egret

During migration, Cattle Egrets are often seen in Michigan, although they are scarce.

Cattle Egrets use a clever technique of catching their meal…they stand on the backs of cattle, catching the disturbed prey as the cattle move and disturb the ground.

Cattle Egrets are little, have a short neck, and have white bodies with pale orange-brown markings on their heads, necks, and backs.

Their irises and cheeks are yellow, as is their skin. Their bills are small, and their legs are greenish-black. Males and females have a similar appearance.

During the breeding season, Cattle Egrets change color and become more vivid, particularly on their legs and face.

Their light orange patches darken during the breeding season. At the peak of their courting, their bills, legs, and irises turn bright red, as does their facial skin (lores).

  • 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 in North America, those living in Mexico’s south, the Gulf Coast, and the southwestern United States remain year-round.

Further north, however, those that breed migrate south after breeding, especially in the eastern United States.

Native grasslands, pastures, grain fields, and rice fields are all good places to see Cattle Egrets, especially if there are hoofed animals.

They do venture into the edges of aquatic habitats, such as riverbanks, ponds, and shallow marshes, while preferring to stay on land and on top of cattle. Golf courses, lawns, athletic fields, dumps, and parks are all habitats for these critters.

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

Cattle Egret nests are generally constructed in woodlands near lakes or rivers, in marshes, or on tiny islands and are fashioned with sticks and reeds.

Females lay up to nine eggs, which take around twenty-five days to incubate. The young take roughly 45 days to grow, fledge, and ultimately become self-sufficient from their parents.

Fun Fact: By having binocular vision for judging distance to catch prey on land rather than correcting for light refraction while feeding in water, the Cattle Egret’s eyes have adapted to foraging on land.

9. Little Blue Heron

During migration, Little Blue Herons may be seen in southern Michigan, although they are not particularly common.

Little Blue Herons don’t actually come in baby sizes. Their bodies are long and stretched, ranging from medium to huge. With dangling feathers across the nape, their heads and necks have a purple tint.

During the breeding season, their eyes turn gray-green and are light yellow in color. Its two-toned bills, light blue or gray with black tips, are long and dagger-like. Slate-blue is the color of their corpses. They have long, black to gray-green legs.

Before becoming a mix of dark gray, blue, and white, juvenile Little Blue Herons are completely white during their first year of life.

  • Egretta caerulea
  • Length: 24 – 29 in (61 – 74 cm)
  • Weight: 16.22 oz (460 g)
  • Wingspan: 40 – 41 in (102 – 104 cm)

Prior to heading south, Little Blue Herons breed in the eastern United States, but they stay throughout the year on the Gulf Coast and Mejico.

Swamps, marshes, ponds, streams, lagoons, tidal flats, canals, ditches, fish hatcheries, and flooded fields are all good places to look for Little Blue Herons.

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

Little Blue Heron nests are built of sticks and are frequently 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 process.

Fun Fact: The presence of Juvenile Little Blue Herons among Snowy Egrets allows them to catch more fish and gain additional protection from predators because of the white coloring.

10. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

In Michigan, yellow-crowned night-herons are considered a uncommon or accidental species, although you may see some during migration in the state’s southeast.

The crowns of adult Yellow-crowned Night Herons are yellow, with two plumes extending from the head. Their bills are rather large, and they’re black. Their remaining heads are black, with a little white patch on the sides below their eyes.

As they grew up, their eyes turned from yellow to orange to red.

The scaled pattern on their wings gives them a gray-blue coloration. During the breeding season, their legs grow longer and yellow, eventually turning coral, pink, or red.

Grayish-brown in color with white streaks and patches, juveniles begin as grayish-brown. To reach maturity, they must spend three years as adults.

  • 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 mainly in the southeastern United States. Throughout Mexico, the Caribbean, and northern South America, they live all year.

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

Yellow-crowned Night-herons eat crustaceans like crabs and crayfish for the most part of their diets. Fish, insects, worms, mollusks, lizards, snakes, rats and birds are also among the foods they consume. Little prey is devoured instantly by them.

Crabs are frequently dismembered or stabbed in the body.

Little, loose colonies of Yellow-crowned Night-herons are common, but they always construct nests near water. Both parents construct the nests using grass, leaves, or moss-covered sticks and twigs.

After that, she lays eight eggs, which they incubate for three weeks together. The chicks are fed by regurgitation after they hatch. They fledge after a month and can fly on their own at the age of fifty days.

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

11. Tricolored Heron

In Michigan, Tricolored Herons are an unusual and accidental species. Yet, in 2022, there have been several reports near Erie.

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

Adults with blue-gray, purple, and white feathers are non-breeding. Yellowish or greyish in color, with a black tip, their bills are Yellow or olive green are the color of their legs and feet.

The base of the bill becomes blue, and breeding adults have thin, white feathers extending from the back of their heads. Their necks and back feathers are also thinner. Their legs, too, turn reddish in hue.

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)

Throughout the Gulf Coast, Mexico, and northern South America, Tricolored Herons may be seen all year. Those who breed farther north migrate south along the Atlantic coast.

Freshwater and brackish marshes, estuaries, and coastal tidal pools or swamps are all home to Tricolored Herons.

The single-feeding tricolored heron is a fiercely territorial eater. They’ll drive away wading birds that like to eat tiny fish, frogs, crustaceans, and insects. They’ll also chase away other wading birds who want to feed in their area.

Stalking, chasing, standing, and waiting for their victim are all behaviors you can expect. Before striking, they crouch low in the water, their bellies grazing the surface and their necks drawn in.

Tricolored Heron nests are constructed out of sticks and hang in groves and bushes. The female deposits three to five eggs, and both parents care for the eggs for three weeks before they hatched. The young are also fed by both of them.

Fun Fact: The Louisiana heron was the name given to the Tricolored Heron, which is the only dark-colored heron with a white belly.

12. Reddish Egret

This is one of the greatest birds to observe because of Reddish Egrets’ dark pink and grayish-blue hues and frantic chasing after prey.

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

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

The bodies of white morphs are completely white. Their eyes are straw yellow, and their skin (lores) is darker around their legs and feet. Their eyes and skin are blue-black.

Adults will 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)

From the Gulf Coast, East Coast, and Mexico to northern South America, Reddish Egrets stay throughout the 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 mostly solitary birds that forage and eat. In the hopes of catching fish, they cross shallow, flooded flats. They stab the fish with their beaks as soon as they are successful in frightening them up.

Reddish Egret nests are frequently found in groups and create a sticks platform for both parents. Protected islands with nearby feeding habitats are the most common locations.

The female lays up to seven eggs, which are incubated by both parents for twenty-five days. Even after they leave the nest, they show concern for the young and will feed them for up to nine weeks.

Fun Fact: The male will do a head toss display and beak snapping during mating, when his feathers puff out and stand out on his head, neck, and back.

In the summer and winter, how often do herons are seen in Michigan?

Using checklists, you may discover which birds are most often seen in your region. In Michigan in the summer and winter, these records indicate which herons are most often sighted on ebird checklists.

Herons in Michigan in summer:

Great Blue Heron 17.7%

Green Heron 7.5%

Great Egret 6.8%

Black-crowned Night-Heron 1.6%

American Bittern 1.3%

Least Bittern 0.7%

Snowy Egret 0.1%

Cattle Egret 0.1%

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron 0.1%

Tricolored Heron <0.1%

Little Blue Heron <0.1%

Herons in Michigan in winter:

Great Blue Heron 2.9%

Black-crowned Night-Heron <0.1%

Great Egret <0.1%

American Bittern <0.1%

Green Heron <0.1%

Cattle Egret <0.1%

Least Bittern <0.1%

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