Types of Herons in British Columbia! (3 species)

What kinds of herons can you find in British Columbia?

common herons, egrets, and bitterns in British Columbia

 

If you visit any type of water habitat, you are likely to see at least one species of heron. These elegant birds are typically found in shallow water, which they enjoy wading through to find food.

 

Some types of herons are easy to spot when they are around, such as Great Blue Herons. But make sure to keep a close watch near dense aquatic vegetation for smaller, more inconspicuous species.

 

Today, you will learn about 3 herons that live in British Columbia!

 

For each heron species, I provide some fun facts and identify them by sight OR sound. Make sure to pay attention to the range maps to see which herons live near you!

  • The range maps below were generously shared with permission from The Birds of The World, published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I use their site OFTEN to learn new information about birds!

 

To learn more about other water birds near you, check out these guides!

 

The 3 Types of Herons That Live in British Columbia:

 


#1. Great Blue Heron

great blue heron - types of herons in British Columbia

Identifying Characteristics:

  • A very tall and large bird, with a long neck and a wide black stripe over their eye.
  • As the name suggests, they are a grayish-blue color.
  • Long feather plumes on their head, neck, and back.

 

Great Blue Heron Range Map

great blue heron range map

 

Great Blue Herons are typically seen in British Columbia along the edges of rivers, lakes, and wetlands.

 

Most of the time, they will either be motionless or moving very slowly through the water, looking for their prey. But watch them closely because when an opportunity presents itself, these herons will strike quickly and ferociously to grab something to eat. Common foods include fish, frogs, reptiles, small mammals, and even other birds.

Check out the Bird Watching HQ YouTube Channel HERE!

 

Great Blue Herons appear majestic in flight, and once you know what to look for, it’s pretty easy to spot them. Watch the skies for a LARGE bird that folds its neck into an “S” shape and has its legs trailing straight behind.

 

Believe it or not, Great Blue Herons mostly build their nests, which are made out of sticks, very high up in trees. In addition, they almost always nest in large colonies that can include up to 500 different breeding pairs. And unbelievably, almost all of the breeding pairs nest in the same few trees!

 

When disturbed, these large birds make a loud “kraak” or “fraunk” sound, which can also be heard when in flight. Listen below!

 


#2. American Bittern

american bittern - species of herons in British Columbia

 

Identifying Characteristics:

  • A medium-sized, stout heron that is a buffy brown color.
  • Underparts are white with brown streaks.

 

Consider yourself lucky if you can spot an American Bittern in British Columbia!

 

These herons live in freshwater marshes and are extremely secretive and perfectly camouflaged for their habitat.

 

American Bittern Range Map

american bittern range map

 

American Bitterns are most often seen standing motionless, waiting for a fish, invertebrate, amphibian, or reptile to wander near. Once their prey gets close enough, their head darts quickly to grab the victim to swallow headfirst. Interestingly, indigestible parts don’t pass through their digestive system but instead are regurgitated as pellets!

 

Sound is one of the best ways to find these herons in British Columbia! During the breeding season, listen for a loud, odd-sounding “oong-KA-chunk” call, which has a liquid sound to it. (Listen below)

 


#3. Green Heron

green heron - common herons in British Columbia

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Small heron with a long, dagger-like bill.
  • Their back is gray-green. Head and neck are chestnut-brown, except for the green-black cap on the head.
  • The neck is commonly drawn into their body.

 

Green Heron Range Map

green heron range map

 

This small heron is found in British Columbia in any wet habitat that includes lots of vegetation, which provides places for them to stay hidden. You will most often see them foraging at dawn or dusk, as they prefer to stay out of sight during most of the day.

 

Green Herons are ambush predators and mainly eat fish, waiting patiently for a small one to swim by so they can snap it up with their long bill. Interestingly, these birds actually use tools to help them hunt! They will drop insects, feathers, or other items into the water, which entice small fish to come closer to investigate.

 

The first time I heard the “skeow” call of an alarmed Green Heron in the marsh behind my house, I had no idea what I heard because it was so unique. But luckily, these sounds are easy to learn, and now I can easily identify these herons when I’m visiting most wetlands.

 


Need additional help identifying the herons that live near you?

Here are a few books and resources you can purchase that will assist!

 


Which of these heron species have you seen before in British Columbia?

 

Leave a comment below!

 

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