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Nature's most accomplished fisherman, the grey heron is known for its motionless stance at the water's edge.

Heron stands in shallow water, surrounded by bushes on the canal bank.

In fact, this graceful pose is most frequently seen replicated by imitation herons, procured to guard the contents of ornamental fishponds. However, heron enthusiasts can spot the real thing waiting patiently for prey on waterways up and down the country.

Grey herons are prevalent throughout Europe, Africa and also in Asia. They typically breed in woodland areas that are close to the water and can be spotted around lakes, estuaries, ponds, rivers and even coastal marshes. Herons are adaptable birds and will feed in any water, be it fresh, salt, clear or muddy, so long as it will yield a catch.

Herons can stand for several minutes with their necks tensed, waiting for an unsuspecting fish to swim into reach. Alternatively, they will stalk the shallows searching for food. Then, quick as a flash, they will dart down and spear the prey with their long dagger-like bill.

The grey heron is the only member of the heron family to be commonly found in Britain. You will be lucky to catch a glimpse of the bittern, which is very scarce, or the egret, which is a rare visitor. Thankfully, the grey heron population is doing well in the UK and is more abundant now than ever before, despite the ever-present danger of starvation over the cold winter months.

Hear what a heron's call sounds like

Heron facts

Appearance: Large and long-legged with an S-shaped neck. The back and wings are coloured grey, and the neck and under-parts are white. Herons have white heads, black wispy crests and a long, pointed yellow bill

Size: 84-102cm in length, 155-175cm wingspan

Weight: 1,500-2,000g

Lifespan: Maximum 25 years

Diet: Primarily fish and amphibians. However, herons can also feed on small rodents, reptiles and birds

Family: Ardeidae

Family nature guide 2019

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Identify footprints and read fascinating facts about the creatures who make their homes along our canals and rivers

Last Edited: 05 April 2023

photo of a location on the canals
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