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Last updated on April 23, 2014 at 21:24 EDT

Grey Heron, Ardea cinerea

The Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) is a wading bird belonging to the family Ardeidae. It is native throughout temperate Europe and Asia and also parts of Africa. It is resident in the milder south and west, but many birds move away during the winter away from the ice in colder regions. It has become common in the summer even inside the Arctic Circle along the Norwegian coast.

It’s a large bird, standing up to 39 inches tall and measuring 33 to 40 inches long with a 61 to 77 inch wingspan. The body weigh can range anywhere from 2.2 to 4.6 pounds. Its plumage is mostly grey above, and off-white below. The adults have a white head with a broad black supercilium and slender crest, while the immature birds have a dull grey head. It has a powerful, pinkish-yellow bill, which is much brighter in the breeding adults. Its flight is slow, with its long neck pulled in showing an S-shape. This is characteristic of herons and bitterns, and sets them apart from storks, cranes and spoonbills, which stretch out their necks. Their call is a loud croaking “fraaaank”. The Australian White-faced Heron is often wrongly called a Grey Heron. In Ireland, the Grey Heron is frequently colloquially called a “crane”.

The following are the four subspecies. Ardea cinerea cinerea Linnaeus can be found in Europe, Africa and western Asia. Ardea cinerea jouyi can be found in Eastern Asia. Ardea cinerea firasa can be found in Madagascar. Ardea cinerea monicae can be found on islands off Banc d’Arguin and Mauritania. It’s closely related and very similar to the American Great Blue Heron, which differs slightly larger in size, and chestnut-brown flanks and thighs.

It feeds in shallow water, catching fish, frogs and insects using its long bill. Herons might also take small mammals and reptiles. They will sometimes take birds up to the size of a Water Rail. It will frequently wait motionless for prey, or slowly stalk its victim.

In the Netherlands, the Grey Heron has established itself over the past decades in big numbers in urban environments. In cities like Amsterdam, they are ever present and well modified to modern city life. They hunt as customary but also visit street markets and snack bars. They are also present at the zoo during the feeding times for penguins, pelicans, and seals. Some of the individuals make use of people feeding them at their homes or recreational fishermen to share their catch. Similar behavior on a smaller scale has been documented in Ireland.

This species breed in colonies in trees and close to bodies of water such as lakes, the seashore, or other wetlands, although it will also nest in reedbeds. The nest is bulky and consists of sticks.

Image Caption: Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea), Pak Thale, Ban Laem, Phetchaburi, Thailand. Credit: JJ Harrison/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Grey Heron Ardea cinerea