9 Types Of HERONS In Colorado (ID Guide With Photos)
Did you recently come across a heron in the state of Colorado, and want to know what species it was?
Identifying herons in the Centennial State is not as easy as it might seem, since there are many heron species in Colorado (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 Colorado in this article.
What are the types of herons in Colorado?
The 9 types of herons found in Colorado are:
- Great Blue Heron
- Snowy Egret
- Cattle Egret
- Green Heron
- Black-crowned Night-heron
- American Bittern
- Great Egret (rare)
- Little Blue Heron (rare)
While many of these herons are year round residents of Colorado, others only occur in the state during the migration season.
Yet other herons are summer visitors during the breeding season, and some are scarce vagrants that are rarely seen in Colorado (more on that below).
Now let’s dive into the details, and take a closer look at each of these Colorado herons:
Great Blue Heron
Scientific name: Ardea herodias
With a wingspan of up to 6 feet, this heron species is one of Colorado’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 Colorado 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.
The Great Blue 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.
This is the most common species of heron found in Colorado
This is one of the most common herons found in the Centennial 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.
Scientific name: Egretta thula
The Snowy Egret is another bird with extensive white plumage, and has become an increasingly common breeding bird throughout Colorado.
This is due to aggressive conservation efforts that were necessary because this Egret species was systematically hunted in previous centuries due to its white crest.
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 wading 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 Colorado.
This egret is much more common in Colorado during the winter months, when large numbers can be observed at the ponds, lakes, and rivers of the Centennial State.
Scientific name: Bubulcus ibis
Smaller than Great Egrets, Cattle Egrets are more stocky due to their 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 Colorado, 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 Colorado, 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 Colorado. It’s a medium-sized heron with an gray-green body and black wings.
These herons tend to live near water in Colorado, so they’re often seen around lakes, riverbanks, 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.
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 Colorado wetlands.
These night-herons are common breeding birds and year-round residents along the Colorado River, though they can be hard to spot during the day, unless you find their day-time hiding spots.
Another great distinguishing feature of the Black-crowned Night-Heron in Colorado 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: 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 Colorado, but can be seen throughout the state during migration, and are also encountered as winter birds in southern Colorado.
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.
This heron is a threatened species in Colorado
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 Colorado 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: Ardea alba
The Great White Egret is a very rare breeding bird in Colorado, but is more frequently seen during migration in fall.
Outside of Colorado, this heron has a range that spans nearly the whole planet, and can be found on almost all continents.
One of Colorado’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 Colorado, and often nests in large colonies on the banks of swamps, lakes, and rivers. Outside of the breeding season it sometimes forms large flocks.
Great Egrets forage in any type of shallow water, including ponds, lakes, rivers, marshes, as well as rice fields and other flooded areas.
Little Blue Heron
Scientific name: Egretta caerulea
While adult Little Blue Herons are slate blue, young birds are entirely white during their first year.
These small herons are very rare in Colorado, and only occur as accidental vagrants that sometimes show up in the Centennial State during the post breeding dispersal period from August to October.
Juvenile birds can be distinguished from other white herons by their dark pointy bill and green legs.
These herons feed on small fish, mollusks and crustaceans, with crayfish forming a large part of their diet.
They prefer an aquatic habitat, where these birds hunt in the shallows, and are rarely seen away from water.
And there we have the herons found in the state of Colorado.
The varied habitats of Colorado are home to more than 400 different bird species, 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 Colorado.