Little Blue Heron

Egretta caerulea

  • Version: 2.0 — Published July 27, 2012
  • James A. Rodgers Jr. and Henry T. Smith

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Figure 1. Distribution of the Little Blue Heron in North and Central America.

Nonbreeders oversummer widely throughout Central America, and may breed locally.

Adult Little Blue Heron, head and bill detail, Madison, CT, 30 April.

Little Blue Heron has a long, finely-pointed bill that is bicolored, bluish at the base and a darker tip. The shaggy plumes on the head and breast of adults are most evident during the breeding season, but these are actually molted in during the prebasic molt in late/summer fall, and take many months to reach full length, perfectly timed to become very obvious during breeding. The following is a link to this photographer's website:

The Little Blue Heron, widely distributed in the Americas, has been the subject of both qualitative and quantitative studies, mostly in the southeastern United States. Knowledge of its biology in Central and South America has slowly increased in the last decade. Unique among herons in exhibiting distinct color morphs for first-year immature (white) and adult (slate-blue) plumages, this species is often overlooked in wetland environments because of its dark adult plumage, somewhat secretive and solitary feeding habits, and smaller numbers than other North American herons. Aerial surveys have difficulty counting this species as it generally nests under the canopy; as a result, data on population numbers and trends are less well known than for other species of North American ardeids.

The white-plumaged subadults are often confused or misidentified as other white herons. Because of their dark plumage and lack of aigrette plumes, adult Little Blue Herons escaped direct persecution from plume hunters seeking other heron species earlier in the twentieth century.

This heron feeds solitarily or in groups with conspecifics and other species of colonial waterbirds. It forages and breeds in a variety of freshwater and marine-estuarine habitats. Its feeding habits are typical of day-herons, and it consumes mostly fish, crustaceans, frogs, and grasshoppers. It possesses a similar repertoire of courtship behaviors compared to other herons and often nests in mixed colonies with other waterbirds. Food limitation appears to be a significant factor controlling its breeding success and hence its population numbers.

Recommended Citation

Rodgers Jr., J. A. and H. T. Smith (2012). Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.