01.24/Herons

I’m in areas year round where I can see wading birds. There’s Ohio’s “north coast,” the parks and wetlands along Lake Erie that we visit in spring to photograph migrating warblers. Central Ohio, where we spend our summer months, has numerous parks with lakes and ponds. And there are the swamp or wetland areas in Southwest Florida where we spend our winter months.

So my photo files include many shots of a variety of egrets, herons and other wading  …  Continue reading

Click on a photo to see a larger version

A Great Blue Heron strikes a graceful pose, Six Mile Cypress Slough, Fort Myers, Fla.

A pair of Great Blue Herons share a nest in Six Mile Cypress Slough, Fort Myers, Fla.

A close view of a Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Six Mile Cypress Slough, Fort Myers, Fla.

A Little Blue Heron walks on plants floating in a swamp in Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Naples, Fla.

A Tricolored Heron rests in Six Mile Cypress Slough, Fort Myers, Fla.

A Night Heron looks back while perched on a log in Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Oak Harbor, Ohio.

A Green Heron stands above the water in Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Naples, Fla.

A Little Blue Heron walks on plants floating in a swamp in Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Naples, Fla.

A Great Blue Heron stands at rest, Six Mile Cypress Slough, Fort Myers, Fla.

A Green Heron prepares to strike at a fish in Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Naples, Fla.

A Great Blue Heron stands quietly near the water in Six Mile Cypress Slough, Fort Myers, Fla.

A pair of Great Blue Herons touch beaks in a courtship ritual in Six Mile Cypress Slough, Fort Myers, Fla.

A Tricolored Heron stands beside water in Six Mile Cypress Slough, Fort Myers, Fla.

A nesting pair of Great Blue Herons share space in Six Mile Cypress Slough, Fort Myers, Fla.

A Green Heron stands above the swamp in Six Mile Cypress Slough, Fort Myers, Fla.

A nesting pair of Great Blue Herons stand in their nest in Six Mile Cypress Slough, Fort Myers, Fla.

Great Blue Heron hunting, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Oak Harbor, Ohio.

Green Heron perched above water, Slate Run Metro Park, Canal Winchester, Ohio.

Little Blue Heron, Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, Hilton Head, S.C.

birds like limpkins, cranes, spoonbills and ibises.

One clarification up front: I mentioned I have a variety of shots of egrets and herons. Scientifically, that’s a redundant statement. Egrets belong to the heron family, but they have white plumage (not color like herons) and develop fine plumes during breeding season. According to numerous bird sites, egrets have the same build as other members of the heron family and are not a biologically distinct group.

But I decided to be a bit picky in creating this gallery. It only includes photos of birds that have the word “heron” in their names.

Wading birds are much easier to photograph than the smaller bird species I usually chase. Size is part of it. 

Unlike warblers and other birds I photograph, which may be six inches long or smaller, the wading birds I’ve photograph range from about 22 inches (like the Snowy Egret and the Night Heron) to about five feet tall (the Sandhill Crane).  

Behavior is the other part. Many wading birds use the same hunting style. The bird will remain motionless for a long period of time as it watches fish swim nearby. When it makes a choice from the watery menu, the bird begins the almost imperceptible process of lowering its head before striking quickly to catch a fish. 

It will hold the fish in its beak for a few minutes, occasionally tossing it in the air and re-catching it to position it before swallowing. Then it returns to the methodical hunt.

The challenge is getting a wading bird in an interesting pose with an attractive, uncluttered background.

A heron’s eye-beak coordination is incredible. A captured fish will wriggle, trying to escape, which makes it difficult to swallow. The bird will often toss the fish in the air several times, catching it in its beak in different positions until it gets the fish in the right position for swallowing.

When people think of herons and egrets they visualize the tall, long-necked, graceful Great Blue Heron or Great Egret. But some of my favorite herons to photograph are the stocky, less graceful heron varieties like the Black-crowned Night Heron, the Yellow-crowned Night Heron or the Green Heron. Unlike their long-legged, long-necked cousins, these herons have shorter legs and are usually seen with their necks tucked into their bodies, which creates a hunchback appearance. These herons are often seen perched on fallen logs or low limbs above the water, watching for potential meals.

Some wading birds have different diets. Limpkins eat snails and, fortunately for the state of Florida, limpkins eat the varieties of invasive apple snails that are thriving in the Everglades region. The apple snails can grow as large as five inches across. Ibises will eat insects and can be found walking in groups across lawns and golf courses in Florida, picking insects out of the grass.

Return to top of page

Egrets belong to the heron family, but they have white plumage (not color like herons) and develop fine plumes during breeding season.

Great Blue Heron sharing log with a turtle, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.

Purchase photos

Photographs and text: Copyright - Pat D. Hemlepp. All rights reserved. Photographs may not be used without permission.

Attorneys affiliated with ImageRights International pursue copyright infringement claims on my behalf.