Little Blue Heron
There are 60 to 65 species of herons recognized worldwide, 20 of which are in North America. They are divided into three groups: bitterns; herons and egrets; and night herons. Florida has two species of bitterns, eight species of herons and egrets, and two species of night herons.
The little blue heron (Egretta caerulea) is listed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) as a Species of Special Concern. It is common and widespread throughout most of Florida but is somewhat rare in parts of the Panhandle. Its population declined during the 19th and 20th centuries as a result of both human-induced and natural impacts to seasonal water levels at its wetland breeding colonies and foraging sites. It may also be impacted by pollutants as it forages at sites developed by humans such as drainage ditches, canals, fish ponds and impoundments.
It can be observed foraging and nesting in both freshwater and saltwater shallow environments, though it prefers freshwater wetlands over saltwater wetlands. It is common on Sanibel and Captiva islands, as well as in south Florida.
The little blue heron is medium size at 25-29 inches in total length with a wingspread of 40 inches. Breeding adults are slate blue with a shaggy maroon head. The distal third of the bill is black with the rest of the bill and orbital skin cobalt blue (dark gray, in nonbreeding plumage); the iris is grayish-green (pale yellow, nonbreeding); the legs are black (grayish green, nonbreeding). Its long lanceolate plumes are prominent from the head crest to the back during the breeding season.
The little blue heron is unique among North America’s herons and egrets in having a white phase during its immature and juvenile stages. During its molting plumage transition, the slate blue feathers of the adult are filled in gradually, and this stage of development is known as “calico” or “pied.” It acquires its full adult plumage at 2 years of age. It begins breeding at 1112 months. The breeding sub-adult obtains the cobalt blue on the bill and orbital skin, but its legs remain yellow-green.
When in its white phase, the little blue heron can be confused with four other herons and egrets except for subtle differences. The snowy egret (E. thula) has yellow feet (golden
The slate blue feathers of the adult fill in gradually on the juvenile little blue heron.