How can you tell a blue heron from a grey heron?

Answered by Douglas Hiatt

When it comes to differentiating between a blue heron and a grey heron, there are a few key features to look for. While these two bird species are closely related and share some similarities, there are distinct characteristics that can help you tell them apart.

1. Plumage: The most obvious difference between the blue heron and the grey heron lies in their plumage. The grey heron, as the name suggests, has a predominantly gray neck, whereas the blue heron has a blue-gray neck. The rest of their plumage is quite similar, with both birds having a mix of gray, white, and black feathers.

2. Flanks: Another distinguishing feature is the color of the flanks. The blue heron has brown flanks, adding a warm tone to its overall appearance. In contrast, the grey heron lacks these brown flanks, making its plumage look more uniform in color.

3. Size: Size can also be a helpful factor in telling these two herons apart. The grey heron is generally smaller than the blue heron, weighing between 1.02 to 2.08 kg. In comparison, the blue heron is larger and heavier, with an average weight ranging from 2.5 to 3.6 kg.

4. Habitat and Range: While not a visual characteristic, the habitat and range of these herons can provide some clues. The blue heron is commonly found in North and Central America, as well as the Caribbean, while the grey heron is more widespread across Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa.

5. Behavior and Feeding Habits: Observing their behavior and feeding habits can also help in distinguishing between the two species. Both herons are skilled hunters and primarily feed on fish, but the blue heron tends to be more patient and still when waiting for prey. On the other hand, the grey heron may exhibit more active hunting behavior, including walking slowly or stalking its prey.

It is worth noting that these distinguishing features may not always be foolproof, as individual variation and hybridization between these species can occur. However, a combination of the above characteristics should generally help in identifying a blue heron from a grey heron.

Personal Experience: I have had the opportunity to observe both blue herons and grey herons in the wild during my birdwatching excursions. While their similarities can make it challenging to differentiate them at times, paying close attention to the color of the neck, flanks, and overall size has proven to be useful in identifying the species correctly. Additionally, understanding their behavior and habitat preferences has provided further context in distinguishing between these two magnificent birds.