Bird Species Spotlight: Tricolored Heron

by Jake Jacoby | September 6, 2018

Tricolored heron by Jake JacobyThe tricolored heron, formerly known as the “Louisiana heron” in North America, is a small to medium-sized heron and is found in quiet, shallow waters. It is strikingly slender, with a long bill, neck, and legs and is often found wading belly-deep in coastal lagoons and freshwater ponds, lakes, and rivers. It has a length of 22 inches and a wingspan of 3 feet. It has blue-gray feathers on its head, back, and upper wings. The color on the chest and the belly is white and the neck is rusty with a white stripe and a yellow bill. Males and females are very similar in appearance with the male being slightly larger in size.

Tricolored heron fishing © Jake Jacoby

Tricolored heron fishing. © Jake Jacoby

Tricolored herons will stand still in shallow water and wait for prey to approach, or will walk very slowly and sometimes stir bottom sentiment with one foot. It will occasionally fly over the top of the water in pursuit of schools of fish. It is solitary in foraging, and will drive other birds away from small feeding territories. The tricolored heron feeds mostly on small fish but will also eat crayfish, shrimp, aquatic insects, tadpoles, and frogs.

The tricolored heron breeds in colonies, often with other species of wading birds. Tricolored herons are monogamous and have a strong bond between the pairs. The male selects the site within the colony and displays there to attract a mate. Displays include neck stretching, deep bowing, and circular display flights. Preening, erecting feathers, and twig shaking are also common courtship activities. Nests are built in trees or mangroves and sometimes on the ground, but usually 2 to 10 feet above the ground. The nest is normally built by the female after the materials are gathered by the male.

Tricolored heron blast-off © Jake Jacoby

Tricolored heron blast-off. © Jake Jacoby

After the nest is constructed, the female will lay two to seven pale blue-green eggs which are then incubated by both parents. Hatching occurs after 21 to 25 days and the chicks begin climbing around the nest after 3 weeks. Both parents feed the young regurgitated food and the chicks will begin to fly after 5 weeks.

Tricolored heron in breeding plumage © Jake Jacoby

Tricolored heron in breeding plumage. © Jake Jacoby

Predators like American crows, boat-tailed grackles, red-winged blackbirds and purple gallinules will destroy and eat both the heron eggs and the young birds. Turkey vultures, feral cats, and raccoons also prey on eggs and young birds.

A flock of tricolored herons is known as a “rookery,” “scattering” or “battery.” When they sense danger in their vicinity, tricolored herons will camouflage themselves by standing straight with their bills pointed up towards the sky. They are the only dark-colored heron that has a white belly. Also, their bill changes color during the breeding season.

Tricolored heron at dusk © Jake Jacoby

Tricolored heron at dusk. © Jake Jacoby

All of these photographs were taken by me at the Fort DeSoto State Park in Tierra Verde, Florida, Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland, Florida, and the Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach, Florida. All three areas are wonderful places for birding and wildlife photography. Visit any of these locations for a great walk and be sure and bring your binoculars.

About the Author

To see more of Jake's work as well as his favorite photographs check out his Flickr page.

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