Great blue heron

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More names for this bird

Anishinaabemowin: Zhashagi

Dakota: Hoḳa (heron)

The Dakota and Anishinaabe were among the earliest people to name Minnesota’s plants and animals, as well as to understand them in relation to Minnesota’s climate and seasons. Those original names are still in use, and several are included on the Season Watch website.

Latin (or scientific name): Ardea herodias

The scientific community has a convention of assigning agreed-upon Latin names to every kind of organism. Using scientific names helps people communicate confidently about the same organism and organize lifeforms based on how closely related they are.

Great blue heron flying, with water in the background and green vegetation in the foreground
June 17, 2011, Crow Wing County, Minnesota
Photo © pserani01, some rights reserved (CC-BY-NC)
iNaturalist observation

About the great blue heron

  • To recognize this bird in flight, look for the distinctive “S” shape of their neck and long legs trailing behind them.
  • Great blue herons hunt by standing very still in shallow water waiting for fish or amphibians to swim by. They rapidly strike using their long neck and sharp bill to catch prey.
  • In Minnesota, great blue herons typically lay just one clutch of three to five eggs in early spring. Both parents will incubate the eggs until they hatch after twenty-five to thirty days.
  • Fun Fact: Herons nest in large colonies, sometimes consisting of 500 or more individual nests! Multiple large nests may be built in a single tree.
  • Great blue herons migrate. Expand the "Migration animation" section below to learn more.

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Migration animation

Click the full-frame icon (lower right corner of video) to play at full size.

Video file

More about eBird's abundance animations

eBird data from 2006-2020. Estimated for 2020. Fink, D., T. Auer, A. Johnston, M. Strimas-Mackey, O. Robinson, S. Ligocki, W. Hochachka, L. Jaromczyk, C. Wood, I. Davies, M. Iliff, L. Seitz. 2021. eBird Status and Trends, Data Version: 2020; Released: 2021. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York.

Visual guide to phenology

Watch for changes in great blue herons' presence (or absence), abundance, and behaviors at different times of year. Also, pay attention to when young-of-year appear and develop.

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Note to observers

This page explains general clues to watch for when observing great blue heron phenology. However, this page does not explain how to identify this bird or collect data in a standardized way.

Single great blue heron in flight against an overcast sky
Scene of a heron rookery, leafless trees contain a dense arrangement of about ten nests. Herons are perched near nests.
Photo of a small island in a river. The island is nearly underwater, but tall trees are rooted there and provide nesting space for herons.
Young herons standing up in their nests against a blue sky.
Great blue heron in a tropical setting, perched on palm-like vegetation.
Great blue heron in a winter scene with open water and snow.

Graphs and historical data

Note: The Orientation Center provides a map, as well as information on reading graphs; interpreting summary statistics, who collected the data and how; and how to download datasets for independent exploration.

Hubbard County

First seen

  • Earliest: March 19 (occurred in 2001)
  • Average: March 30
  • Latest: April 8 (occurred in 2014)
Scatterplot showing great blue heron phenology observations in Hubbard County, Minnesota

Download this dataset (.csv file)

Sherburne County


  • Earliest: March 2 (occurred in 1992)
  • Average: March 23
  • Latest: April 8 (occurred in 2003)
Scatterplot showing great blue heron phenology observations in Sherburne County, Minnesota

Download this dataset (.csv file)