What kinds of herons can you find in Maine?
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 7 herons that live in Maine!
- If you’re interested, you can watch the birds in my backyard right now! Check out and watch my TWO live animal cameras HERE!
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!
#1. Great Blue Heron
- 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 Herons are typically seen in Maine 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.
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
- 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 Maine!
These herons live in freshwater marshes and are extremely secretive and perfectly camouflaged for their habitat.
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 Maine! During the breeding season, listen for a loud, odd-sounding “oong-KA-chunk” call, which has a liquid sound to it. (Listen below)
#3. Black-crowned Night-Heron
- A relatively small, stocky, compact heron.
- Appears a bit hunchbacked, as it often tucks its neck into its body.
- Black head and back, which contrast against its white belly and gray wings.
Black-crowned Night-Heron Range Map
Black-crowned Night-Herons are common in wetlands across Maine. In fact, they are the most widespread heron in the world, but they are often hard to actually locate and see!
As their name suggests, these herons are most active at dusk and during the evening. While the sun is out, they spend the day hiding amongst brush and vegetation near the water’s edge. By foraging at night, these birds avoid competition from other heron species!
When surprised or under duress, Black-crowned Night-Herons give a loud, barking “quawk.“ While at their nesting colonies, you can hear a variety of other croaks, barks, hisses, screams, clucks, and rattles. LISTEN BELOW!
#4. Green Heron
- 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
This small heron is found in Maine 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.
#5. Snowy Egret
- A completely white, medium-sized heron with a black dagger-like bill.
- Black legs, but their feet are yellow.
- A yellow patch of skin beneath their eye.
Snowy Egret Range Map
These beautiful herons will often use their yellow feet to stir up water or mud to help them uncover hiding invertebrates, amphibians, or fish. Once their prey has been found, Snowy Egrets have no problem running their food down to finish the job!
Sibling rivalry with these birds can be intense, to say the least.
As you can see in the video above, the weakest hatchling is sometimes thrown out of the nest by its brothers and sisters! While this can be sad to see, this behavior ensures that the strongest babies get the most amount of food.
Interestingly, Snowy Egrets will breed with other heron species, such as other similarly sized birds like Tricolored Herons, Little Blue Herons, and Cattle Egrets. So if you see a heron that you can’t seem to identify, it may be a hybrid!
#6. Least Bittern
- A small heron that has a hunchbacked appearance, and a long, pointed yellow bill.
- Unlike most other heron species, male and female Least Bitterns look different.
- Males: Extremely dark green back and crown.
- Females: Dark brown back and crown.
Least Bitterns are the smallest heron you will find in Maine!
And not only are these birds small, but they can be tough to actually see. Least Bitterns blend in perfectly to their wetland environments and seem to appear out of the reeds or cattails. To find one, you will need lots of patience and a bit of luck. 🙂
Least Bittern Range Map
Surprisingly, Least Bitterns can be found searching for food in fairly deep water. Unlike other herons that wade through the water, these birds are light enough to grasp onto reeds, which allows them to hunt while being suspended in midair!
Spring might be your best time to find one of these herons, as the males make a “coo-coo-coo-coo” sound, which they use to attract mates and mark their territory.
#7. Little Blue Heron
- Adults: Have a slate-gray body and a purple-maroon head and neck.
- Juveniles: During their first year, these herons are completely white!
- Look for a two-toned bill, regardless of the bird’s age, which is gray with a black tip.
Little Blue Herons are found in shallow wetlands in Maine. They are patient hunters and will stay motionless for long periods of time, waiting for prey to pass by them. While waiting, they keep their daggerlike bill pointed downwards to be prepared for the moment a fish, amphibian, insect, or crustacean appears.
Little Blue Heron Range Map
As you can see above, juvenile Little Blue Herons look completely different than adults! It’s thought that these birds adapted this white plumage so they can be tolerated by Snowy Egrets, who catch more fish. Hanging out with large flocks of white herons also probably helps with avoiding predators. 🙂
Little Blue Herons are mostly silent, but it is possible to hear them squeaking when alarmed. They also emit various screams and croaks while nesting at a colony.
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 Maine?
Leave a comment below!
To learn more about other water birds near you, check out these guides!
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!