Tricolored Heron

Egretta tricolor

  • Version: 2.0 — Published May 10, 2013
  • Peter C. Frederick

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Figure 1. Distribution of the Tricolored Heron in N. and Central America and the W. Caribbean.

This species also breeds in South America. See text for details. Wandering birds are observed during the spring and summer northern of shown distribution. This species is a local resident and breeds irregularly along the Atlantic coast north to southern Maine.

Breeding adult Tricolored Heron, Harns Marsh, FL, 15 March.

Tricolored Herons are striking, especially for a short period in early spring when they attain high breeding plumage and their facial skin and bill turns bright blue. Also note the white belly, always a key field mark for identifying this species. The following is a link to this photographer's website:

Formerly known as the Louisiana Heron, this slender day-heron is found only in the New World, and is one of 4 North American herons in the genus Egretta (Snowy Egret [Egretta thula], Little Blue Heron [E. caerulea], and Reddish Egret [E. rufescens]). Until the arrival of the Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) in the 1950s, this species was likely the most numerous North American heron. Although probably not commercially important to the plume trade at the turn of the twentieth century, the Tricolored Heron undoubtedly suffered because of its habit of nesting with more valuable species.

The diet of this heron consists almost entirely of small estuarine and marsh fishes, which it acquires through a diverse array of foraging behaviors. This species is less social in foraging habits than are most other North American herons, typically feeding either solitarily or at the edge of mixed-species groups. The Tricolored Heron is also more commonly associated with coastal habitats than are other herons, except the Reddish Egret. In the United States, food availability and, indirectly, the amount and type of habitat, appear to control the number of breeding attempts.

Tricolored Herons appear to be declining throughout their North American range. The species is among the most studied of the North American herons: its breeding behavior and displays are particularly well documented (Rogers Rodgers 1978a, Rodgers 1978c), as are many aspects of its foraging ecology and behavior (Kushlan 1978b, Rodgers 1983a, Kent Kent 1986a, Kent 1986b) and nesting ecology (Jenni 1969b, Maxwell and Kale 1977, Post 1990b, Frederick et al. 1992).

Although much is known about the Tricolored Heron in the U.S., relatively little information is available for Caribbean and Central and South American populations. Basic information is needed on estimates of its survival, descriptions of its winter habitat, and molt patterns.

Recommended Citation

Frederick, P. C. (2013). Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.