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Grey Heron

Latin Name: Ardea cinerea

The first birds may have returned to the nesting sites during December with the numbers building up slowly during January and the more established breeding pairs present at their old nests by the beginning of February. The young first time breeding pairs will not arrive until the end of February or even into March.

February is a time for re-establishing their pair bonds and rebuilding their nests. During this process they are very vocal and perform a display of bowing and wing spreading movements as well as carrying large numbers of sticks to their nests. Herons although a large bird, do nest in trees in colonies, called a Heronry, so a tree can have a number of nests for different mating pairs and the process of collecting sticks is an intriguing process to watch as both birds seem to go off and collect together new nesting material, but as they are away their neighbours will come and take the new stocks for their own nests.

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Herons have pink bills during the mating season and seem to perform an important part of the breeding display. The first eggs usually arrive in the third week of February at which time their bills return to the normal yellow colour and become pink again the eggs become lost or are stolen as the birds need to start the breeding process again. An area close by to the Heronry will see large numbers of off-duty birds, usually males, stand motionless as part of their ritualised breeding behaviour. Once the young are born, both parents will both collect food and also continue to clean out and rebuild their nests.

Mild winters have been kind to them in recent years, they will struggle to find enough food when lakes and ponds freeze and the soil turns hard meaning they can't get at the worms for their young. If we get a prolonged cold snap nesting will be delayed.

Animal Facts

In Britain: All year round

Habitat: Waterside, wet meadows

Food: Fish, amphibians, worms, small mammals, insects. Seeks food on banks of shallows water, in meadows and fields.

Breeding: February - June, 3-5 eggs, incubation 25-28 days, young fledge 50-55 days. Colonial nester usually in tall trees, sometimes in reedbeds.

Conservation Status

Least Concern

Heron Hotspots

Herons are quite a common site within the UK now, we have seen individuals on river banks, at canals and of course in the wetland centres. Some places you can go and see Herons in their Heronry during the breeding season, February onwards include:

RSPB centres at

But also at other locations such as:


By: Tracey Park Section: Birds  Key:
Page Ref: grey_heron Topic: Wildlife & Animals  Last Updated: 08/2009

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