Ardea herodias Linnaeus, 1758, Hudson Bay. Five subspecies.
OTHER COMMON NAMES
English: Great white heron (white birds), Wьrdemann’s heron (dark-white intermediate); French: Grand hйron; German: Kanadareiher; Spanish: Garza Azulada.
A large, dimorphic heron. Length is 36–54 in (91–137 cm); weight is 5–8 lb (2.3–3.6 kg). Dark gray heron has chestnut thighs and a white cap over a black eye stripe. Light birds are all white.
Breeds throughout much of North America except for high mountains and deserts; also in Central America and on certain islands in the Caribbean and Pacific. Nonbreeding range includes much of coastal and southern North America, West Indies, coastal Mexico, Central America, rarely to Panama and northern South America as far as Brazil.
Deep water to dry land. Uses freshwater and salt marshes, mangrove swamps, estuaries, meadows, flooded agricultural fields and pastures, lake and seashores, river banks, dry land pastures, coastal lagoons, mangroves, tidal flats, and sea-grass flats.
Stands in shallow water and roosts in nearby woody vegetation. Feeds in the water or at its edge. Flies with strong slow wing beats, with its head held back. When disturbed, it gives a harsh call.
FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET
Eats large fish, but takes small and large animals of all sorts. Feeds mostly by stalking prey; it also feeds by diving or swimming. Commonly seen near fishing boats and at aquacultural ponds. They feed by day or night. Along the coast, the feeding schedule depends on tides. Feeding sites are often defended.
Begin nesting in the late winter and spring. In tropical areas, they can nest nearly year round. They nest alone, or more commonly in small colonies. Nests are in tall trees with nearby aquatic feeding areas, consisting of are stick platforms 20–39 in (0.5–1 m) across. Clutch size is two to seven, increasing from south to north. Incubation takes about 28 days. Mortality of chicks is often high; one to two are usually fledged.
Not threatened. A population found in southern Florida and the Caribbean consists of many all-white birds and is of conservation concern due to its limited range.
SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS
Probably the best known and appreciated heron in North America. However, it suffers conflict with aquaculture operations. Human disruption of habitat in Florida Bay has lowered the natural reproductive capacity of the highly localized white plumaged population.
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