The Great Blue Heron’s massive size and white in the face separates it from other dark herons such as Little Blue Heron and Tricolored Heron. Sandhill Cranes are more uniformly gray, and adult Sandhills have a vivid red crown. In flight, a Sandhill Crane keeps its neck outstretched and flies with snappy wingbeats, flicking its wings quickly upward. Great Blue Herons fly with their heads pulled back against their shoulders and have smooth, deliberate wingbeats, barely raising their wings above horizontal. Sandhill Cranes are less widespread than Great Blue Herons and are typically seen in flocks. Great Blue Herons travel solo, except if you catch them during migration when you might see up to 10 together. The white subspecies of the Great Blue Heron, the “great white heron” of the Florida Keys, is larger than a Great Egret and has yellow legs, not black, legs.
An all-white subspecies, the Great White Heron, is found in coastal areas of southern Florida, along with individuals that are intermediate in plumage (showing a grayish body with a mostly white head and neck), known as “Würdemann’s Heron.”
Great Blue Herons aren’t likely to visit a typical backyard. However, they are sometimes unwelcome visitors to yards that include fish ponds. A length of drain pipe placed in the pond can provide fish with a place to hide from feeding herons. Herons, like most of our birds, are legally protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Find This Bird
Scan shorelines, river banks, and the edges of marshes, estuaries, and ponds across much of the U.S. for this tall, slow-moving heron. Great Blue Herons also feed in meadows, farmland, and other open fields. Some colonies or “heronries” are found near developed areas; look for the herons’ bulky stick nests high in trees. And once you recognize their slow wingbeats and massive silhouettes, you’ll start to notice these birds in flight high in the sky as well.