The grey heron (Ardea cinerea) is a large heron with a wide distribution. It is found throughout most of Eurasia and Africa. This is an unmistakable bird. It is a large long-legged and long-necked bird, with a long and straight bill. It can reach a height of around 1 m (39 in) and weigh 1-2 kg (2.2-4.4 lb). Wingspan can reach between 155-195 cm (61-77 in) Adult body plumage and wings are grey, with lighter underparts and parts of the flanks are black. It has a white neck and head, with a broad black stripe above they eyes ending in a slender crest. Bill is yellow. Juvenile birds are similar but duller in appearance. They lack the long crest, and neck and head is grey. The bill is also darker in juveniles. As with other species of heron, they fly with their neck retracted in an S-shape.
Diet and habitat
The grey heron is a very adaptable bird, and can be found anywhere as long as food is available. It is usually considered a species with close ties to water, and most of its life will be spent in some form of water-rich habitat, such as marshes, wetlands, lakes, ponds, estuaries and sea shores. It is not avert from living in urban areas, as long as there are ponds, rivers, canals or a coast present. Grey herons can be found looking for food far away from watery habitats, even deserts, but will not live in such places permanently. It is a predatory bird, and most of its diet consists of animals, such as fish, amphibians, crustaceans, insects, and even small mammals and birds. It is often observed in shallow water, looking for food, before darting its beak into the water to catch its prey.
Grey herons nest in colonies know as heronries, and breeding season can be from February to June. Nests are usually built high up in tall trees, but can also be built on other suitable substrates, such as lower trees, brushes, reed beds, cliff ledges, and more. A nest is usually made up of twigs, sticks, dead grasses, and similar materials. It will be reused for many breeding seasons until it is blown down, and every year more materials will be added to make it larger and sturdier. A breeding pair displays a courtship ritual at the start of the breeding season at the nest site, which ends in copulation.
Usually between three and five eggs are laid, but as few as two and as many as seven eggs are possible. The eggs are incubated for around 25 days. After hatching the chicks stay in the nest for 7-8 weeks. Both parents take part in incubation and the feeding of young. Only one-third of all juveniles survive the first year, as many fall prey to predatory birds and other carnivores. For those surviving into adulthood, the average life span in the wild is 5 years. The oldest known individual lived for 23 years.
The grey heron has very large and widespread distribution. It is a very adaptable bird, so even with the reduction of healthy wetland habitats, it is doing quite well. It is not threatened and is listed as least concern on the IUCN Red List.