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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Little Blue Heron

Egretta caerulea ORDER: PELECANIFORMES FAMILY: ARDEIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A small, dark heron arrayed in moody blues and purples, the Little Blue Heron is a common but inconspicuous resident of marshes and estuaries in the Southeast. They stalk shallow waters for small fish and amphibians, adopting a quiet, methodical approach that can make these gorgeous herons surprisingly easy to overlook at first glance. Little Blue Herons build stick nests in trees alongside other colonial waterbirds. In the U.S., their populations have been in a gradual decline since the mid-twentieth century.

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Keys to identification Help

Herons
Herons
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    This is a fairly small heron with a slight body, slender neck, and fairly long legs. It has rounded wings, and a long, straight, spearlike bill that is thick at the base.

  • Color Pattern

    Adult Little Blue Herons are very dark all over. At close range or in good light, they have a rich purple-maroon head and neck and dark slaty-blue body. They have yellow eyes, greenish legs, and a bill that is pale blue at the base, black at the tip. Juveniles are entirely white, except for vague dusky tips to the outer primaries. Immatures molting into adult plumage are a patchwork of white and blue.

  • Behavior

    The Little Blue Heron is a stand-and-wait predator, rather than a frenetic, dashing-about predator. They watch the water for fish and other small morsels, changing locations by walking slowly or by flying to a completely different site. They nest in trees, usually among other nesting herons and wading birds.

  • Habitat

    Look for Little Blue Herons on quiet waters ranging from tidal flats and estuaries to streams, swamps, and flooded fields. They are usually found in only small numbers at any one water body, often tucked into hidden corners.

Range Map Help

Little Blue Heron Range Map
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Field MarksHelp

Similar Species

Similar Species

Snowy Egrets are often mistaken for all-white juvenile Little Blue Herons. However, Snowy Egrets have a longer thinner bill and black legs compared with the greenish-yellow legs of Little Blue Herons (note that juvenile Snowy Egrets can have yellowish legs). Snowy Egrets also lack the vague dusky primary-feather tips of juvenile Little Blue Herons. Adult dark-morph Reddish Egrets are larger than Little Blue Herons. Reddish Egrets have rufous to orange-brown necks, rather than purple-blue, and the base of the bill is pink, rather than blue. Both Snowy Egret and Reddish Egret are very active predators, often prancing around in shallow water chasing fish. Tricolored Herons have white bellies that contrast with their blue chests.

Find This Bird

Scan the edges of shallow water, particularly where there is adjacent emergent vegetation or overhanging bushes or trees, for this fairly inconspicuous heron. You’ll typically see them only in ones and twos, although they may gather with other herons and egrets, particularly at times when a school of small fish has become trapped in shallow water. In open, marshy habitats you may also see Little Blue Herons flapping slowly on rounded wings across the sky. Little Blue Herons often nest with other waterbirds, so if you can find an active colony, scan through the incoming and outgoing birds for small herons with completely dark plumage.

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