9 Types Of HERONS In Arizona (ID Guide With Photos)
Did you recently come across a heron in the state of Arizona, and want to know what species it was?
Identifying herons in the Grand Canyon State is not as easy as it might seem, since there are many heron species in Arizona (as well as closely related egret and bittern species).
To help you identify the bird you saw, we’ll cover the most common herons of Arizona in this article.
What are the types of herons in Arizona?
The 9 types of herons found in Arizona are:
- Great Egret
- Great Blue Heron
- Snowy Egret
- Cattle Egret
- Green Heron
- Black-crowned Night-heron
- Tricolored Heron
- American Bittern
- Least Bittern
While many of these herons are year round residents of Arizona, others only occur in the state during the winter, as migratory birds that spend the cold months in Arizona.
Yet other herons are summer visitors during the breeding season, and some are scarce vagrants that are rarely seen in Arizona (more on that below).
Now let’s dive into the details, and take a closer look at each of these Arizona herons:
Scientific name: Ardea alba
The Great Egret has a range that spans nearly the whole planet, and can be found on almost all continents.
In Arizona, this heron only breeds in the Colorado River valley, but can be seen on migration throughout the enite state. It also winters in southwestern Arizona.
One of Arizona’s large birds, this heron is entirely white, and has long black legs and feet as well as a thick, yellow bill.
During the spring and summer breeding seasons, the Great Egret grows a plume on its back that extends all the way to the tip of its tail.
It lives in freshwater habitats in Arizona, and often nests in large colonies on the banks of swamps, lakes, and rivers.
Great Egrets in Arizona forage in any type of shallow water, including ponds, lakes, rivers, marshes, as well as rice fields and other flooded areas.
It is especially prevalent in the eastern and central regions of the state throughout the summer.
Outside of the breeding season it is less common, but where it occurs it can be seen in large flocks.
Great Blue Heron
Scientific name: Ardea herodias
With a wingspan of up to 6 feet, this heron is one of Arizona’s biggest birds. It is almost entirely blue gray, except for a white throat and eye stripe, as well as dark gray wing feathers.
This enormous blue-colored bird in Arizona likes to hunt for small fish by wading in the shallows of estuaries, mud flats and marshes, as well as lake shores and small ponds.
This heron can stay motionless in shallow water for a long time, while it waits patiently for a suitably sized fish to come close enough to be grabbed with its long, yellow bill.
The Great Blue Heron is the most common type of heron found in Arizona
This is one of the most common herons found in the Grand Canyon State, where it can be seen year round.
Unfortunately, it is considered a pest at fish hatcheries, since it likes to take advantage of hatcheries to catch more fish than in natural environments.
Fun fact: Old heron nests are sometimes used by owls, as well as other types of birds of prey in Arizona. These birds appropriate heron nests instead of building their own.
Scientific name: Egretta thula
The Snowy Egret is another bird with extensive white plumage, and has become an increasingly common breeding bird throughout Arizona.
This is due to aggressive conservation efforts that were necessary because this Egret species was systematically hunted in previous centuries.
This little white heron stands out due to its slim black bill and bright area between the eyes and nostrils.
In adult Snowy Egrets, the legs are totally black, which contrasts with their yellow feet. It is thought that the brightly colored feet help to attract small fish and other prey.
The legs of juvenile Snowy Egrets have a predominant greenish yellow color, with some black areas on the front of the leg.
This bird is found in practically all types of wetland environments, from small ponds to saltwater shorelines and everything in between.
Snowy Egrets feed on fish, crabs, snails, amphibians, and crayfish, which they find in shallow water.
These herons either remain completely still and wait for prey to approach, or they stir up the water with their feet to flush out prey to the surface.
The nests of these egrets can be found in trees or hidden among ground-level bushes. The female lays 3 to 6 eggs, which are subsequently incubated by both the male and female.
During the summer, the Snowy Egret is a rare to relatively common breeding bird in Arizona.
This egret is much more common in Arizona during the winter months, when large numbers can be observed at the ponds, lakes, and rivers of the Grand Canyon State.
Scientific name: Bubulcus ibis
Smaller than Great Egrets, Cattle Egrets have shorter necks and are mostly white with streaks of brownish orange on the head, throat, and back.
The Cattle Egret is a relatively new species in the New World that originated in Europe and Africa.
Nobody knows how these herons crossed the Atlantic, but they were first discovered breeding in Brazil, and later in Arizona, where these egrets first appeared in the 1950s.
Cattle Egrets have been very successful at colonizing the Americas, and are common breeding birds all over the southern states.
In contrast to other egrets and herons, Cattle Egrets regularly forage in dry habitats in Arizona, including high altitude areas.
This is a small egret that is entirely white, except for the breeding season, when adults develop orange plumage on the back of their head, back, and chest.
The legs and the beak are yellow, but at the peak of the breeding season, these herons take on a ruddy hue.
This small heron inhabits a wide range of wetland ecosystems, ranging from shallow saltwater zones to freshwater ponds, swamps, and lakes.
In addition to wetlands, the Cattle Egret also does a significant amount of its foraging in dry areas, such as pastures, where it likes to follow cattle and feed on the insects disturbed by the livestock.
Scientific name: Butorides virescens
The Green Heron is a relatively common water bird in southeast Arizona. It’s a medium-sized heron with an olive-green body and black wings.
These herons tend to live near water in Arizona, so they’re often seen around lakes, rivers, ponds, or even swimming pools.
They eat fish, frogs, snails, small reptiles, amphibians, and crustaceans. They nest in trees or shrubs but sometimes build their nests on islands.
The Green Heron is usually silent except at dusk or dawn, when it makes its characteristic call, which sounds like “kreee.”
Green Herons usually build their nests out of thin twigs, and place them in the crowns of large trees close to water.
However, if suitable nesting trees are not available, these herons can also nest on the ground, usually underneath a bush.
Black-crowned Night Heron
Scientific name: Nycticorax nycticorax
The Black-crowned Night-Heron is true to its name, and is most active at dusk and during the night, when it forages for frogs and small fish in Arizona wetlands.
These night-herons are common breeding birds and year-round residents in south Arizona, though they can be hard to spot during the day, unless you find their day-time hiding spots.
Another great distinguishing feature of this night bird in Arizona are its loud squawking sounds, which it utters at dusk when it flies out from its roost.
The mating season is marked by a change in appearance of this heron, with the black color of the head and back transforming into a glossy greenish blue.
In addition, the lores become black, while their feet take on a pink or crimson hue.
Black-crowned Night Herons are social birds, and usually nest in colonies that share the same nesting tree.
Scientific name: Egretta tricolor
The Tricolored Heron used to be called the Louisiana Heron, and is a medium-sized wading bird with a blue-gray upper side and chest, as well as a white belly.
It is an accidental visitor in southern Arizona during fall migration, where it can be seen very rarely at ponds, lakes and other wetlands.
While Tricolored Herons like to nest in colonies, sometimes forming colonies with other heron species, they often forage alone and are fiercely protective of their territory.
These herons consume fish, crustaceans, amphibians, and insects, and will drive away other wading birds that invade their habitat.
This Arizona shorebird hunts in shallow waters, usually by patiently waiting until its prey comes within reach.
Scientific name: Botaurus lentiginosus
American Bitterns are small herons that live in marshes and swamps, and are extremely well camouflaged to blend in with aquatic vegetation.
These small herons don’t breed in Arizona, but can be seen throughout the state during migration, and are also encountered as winter birds in southern Arizona.
They can blend in with the reeds surrounding them thanks to their mottled brown patterning, as well as the way they hold their heads pointed upwards while remaining still amid the reeds.
Bitterns have a neck that is similar in length to the rest of their body, which they use to catch small fish and other animals in shallow water.
Since these Arizona water birds are very secretive, the best way to identify a bittern is by its call, which sounds similar to “oonk-ka-oonk.”
American Bitterns eat a wide variety of aquatic organisms, including fish, crabs, insects, frogs, and small rodents.
They wait patiently in the reeds for their prey to approach before making a swift, quiet dash forward to catch it in their bills.
Scientific name: Ixobrychus exilis
The Least Bittern is hard to spot, since it usually remains hidden in dense reed beds. The best way to identify one of these herons is by its coo-coo-coo call.
Least Bitterns are most active at dawn and at dusk, when they can also be seen flying to and from their roosting trees.
These herons are most active at dawn and at dusk, when they can also be seen flying to and from their roosting trees. They feed on fish, amphibians, molluscs, insects, and even rodents.
This heron is an endangered species in Arizona
Least Bitterns are rare in Arizona, and only breed in a small population in southern Arizona. They are summer visitors in the state, spending the winter in Central America.
If you do get your eyes on these herons you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the attractive orange and black color of these Arizona birds.
The best places to see these herons are Arizona marshes and wetlands with dense vegetation, where they can be observed hunting at the edges of open water.
They forage by grasping individual reeds with their claws while waiting for small aquatic animals to pass by in the water underneath them.
These herons perch on the reeds and bend their bodies in all sorts of ways to reach their meal floating below.
And there we have the herons found in the state of Arizona.
The varied habitats of Arizona are home to more than 600 different species of birds, and herons make up a significant proportion of this rich avifauna.
Ranging from herons to egrets and bitterns, birds of the heron family play a vital role in the ecology of their habitats.
If you enjoyed this article, check out our guide to the common birds of Arizona.