11 Types of Herons in North Carolina

Types of Herons in North Carolina 
Photo by Mayukh Karmakar on Unsplash

Have you ever visited a nature preserve and see a graceful, tall bird with large wings? That bird may have been one of the types of herons in North Carolina. 

Herons are among the most recognizable birds that call our state home.

They have slender bodies, long necks and legs, and sharp beaks they use to catch small fish and other aquatic creatures.

North Carolina has different types of herons: the Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Black-Crowned Night-Heron, Louisiana Heron, Cattle Egret, and Green Heron. 

These birds can be spotted throughout North Carolina’s wetlands, riversides, and coasts.

In our article, we will take a closer look at each of these types of herons in North Carolina and how to identify them from one another.

1. Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
by Dis da fi we is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Yellow-crowned Night-Heron is first on our list of types of herons in North Carolina.

It is the smallest heron in the state and can be found along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, inland rivers, and wetlands. 

This small bird feeds on small fish and aquatic invertebrates such as crayfish, insects, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, and other birds.

It can also feed on carrion and garbage items that are readily available. It has a yellow crown and distinct black stripes on its wings. 

This species easily adapts to different wetlands habitats across the region and uses trees and shrubs for breeding.

The Yellow-crowned Night-Heron is most active at night when you can observe it hunting around shallow marshes or wading through ponds for food during its preferred twilight hours.

2. Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron
by Dis da fi we is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Tricolored Heron is also on our list of types of herons in North Carolina, and a waterbird of some renown in North Carolina.

It is one of the area’s most distinctive herons, featuring vibrant plumage and unusual courtship behaviors. 

The Tricolored Heron bears bright blue-purple feathers along its neck and wings and has speckled gray feathers on its back.

Its chest, head, and bill are white. This visually striking waterbird can be seen patrolling ponds, rivers, swamps, and marshes along the coast or inland in search of small fish or aquatic invertebrates to feed upon. 

During the breeding season, the Tricolored Heron shows unusual behavior where it performs “weed dancing” by dipping its head into long strands of floating plants.

It emulates hunting behavior to show off to potential mates.

These majestic types of herons in North Carolina often move around as large flocks but can sometimes be seen alone as they patiently sweep shallow waters looking for prey.

3. Great Egret

Great Egret Types of Herons in Ohio
by Dis da fi we is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Great Egret, also known as the Great White Egret or Common Egret, is a species of heron found in North Carolina.

These regal types of herons in North Carolina stand up to 4 feet tall and have long white feathers, yellow beaks, and black legs.

The fluffy plumes around their heads give them a majestic appearance, making them a stunning sight when standing on marsh edges and at the water’s edge. 

They have excellent vision and hearing, allowing them to spot small fish from far away.

They are found in freshwater and saltwater ecosystems but are most commonly seen chasing shrimp in creeks around the Outer Banks and other coastal regions of North Carolina.

Great Egrets feed mainly on crustaceans, frogs, and other aquatic prey such as insects, tadpoles, or plants. 

In addition to providing an important source of sustenance for local fish populations, they serve an important role in controlling insect pests around the state by consuming many types of mosquitoes that can carry mosquito-borne diseases like the West Nile virus.

4. Great Blue Heron

Great Blue
by ZionNPS is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Great Blue Heron is one of many species of herons found in North Carolina.

These beautiful types of herons in North Carolina are easily identifiable by their long neck, adult size of 40 inches, and gray-blue feathers. 

The Great Blue Heron is a large wading bird and feeds on fish, frogs, insects, and small mammals near shallow bodies of freshwater or saltwater estuaries.

They are usually solitary creatures but can sometimes be seen in flocks during migration season. 

5. Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron
by diana_robinson is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Little Blue Herons are found almost everywhere in North Carolina.

The Little Blue Heron is one of the smallest types of herons in North Carolina, yet their presence greatly impacts the ecology of our wetlands.

Here we’ll discuss what makes this species unique and how it fits into the larger context of heron species inhabiting our region. 

The Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea) is a small heron found commonly in ponds and wetlands throughout North Carolina.

With its beautiful blue-gray coloring, long legs and neck, and striking white head pattern, this species stands out from other heron species within our state’s wetlands habitats.

They forage for food by wading through shallow waters with slow movements searching for small fish, amphibians, invertebrates, and insects. 

One unique feature of the Little Blue Heron that sets it apart from other North Carolina herons is its ability to change colors seasonally.

During the breeding season, they have a brilliant deep-blue coloration due to hormonal changes.

However, as soon as breeding season ends, they become an identical version of another closely related species called a Tricolored Heron, which is grayish-white in overall body color with gray wings and a chestnut neck.

This amazing type of seasonal color change allows them to reduce their visibility.

At the same time, they complete numerous plumage molting events each year in preparation for their upcoming migrations to areas further south during the Winter months. 

Little Blue Herons are essential contributors to wetland health across regions all over North Carolina, from mountains to coasts, making them important ambassadors for protecting these lands in more ways than one!

Assembling data about their location and behavior across seasons helps biologists better understand changes occurring in our wetlands as well as identify certain threats or challenges facing these delicate ecosystems that need attention, allowing conservationists to allocate resources most effectively for protection when needed, thus creating healthier habitats for diverse wildlife species like frogs, lizards, turtles and more!

6. Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret
by Charles Patrick Ewing is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Reddish Egret is a species of heron found along the southeastern and gulf coast regions of the United States.

It is one of two types of egrets that inhabit North Carolina, the other being the Great Egret.

Although they are similar in appearance and behavior, there are some differences between the two species. 

The Reddish Egret has a flamboyant courtship display, with elaborate stretching and head-bobbing behaviors, white feathers overall, and bluish legs held in a tight concertina.

This species feeds primarily on fish but will also feed on crustaceans, insects, reptiles, and amphibians.

They may be spotted at various wetlands throughout North Carolina’s beautiful coastal areas during the summer.

7. Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret - Types of Herons in Wisconsin
by Franco Folini is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Snowy Egret is a species of heron that frequents the eastern coast of North Carolina.

While they are rarely seen in large numbers, they can be observed occasionally near tidal marshes and other coastal wetlands.

As members of the Ardeid family, these wading types of herons in North Carolina fly with their necks tucked tight against the body.

The Snowy Egret is a medium-sized species that measures 21-28 inches in height with a wingspan of 37 inches.

It has predominantly white plumage, black legs, and long, yellow feet.

Other distinguishing features that make the bird easily identifiable include its long neck, slender body, pointy black bill, and bright yellow eyes.

The Snowy Egret also has lacy white plumage at its throat and head and small feathers on the back of its neck called breeding plumes which turn into beautiful nuptial colors during courtship displays. 

The primary diet taken by this migratory bird consists mainly of small fish, aquatic invertebrates including frogs, crayfish, and dragonflies, as well as terrestrial insects such as grasshoppers and spiders.

They feed mostly in shallow waters by oscillating their heads while walking or standing still but will sometimes hunt higher up on mudflats to find prey more easily exposed by receding tides. 

During the breeding season, they may fly further inland for food resources resulting in flock sightings near lakes or ponds.

These types of herons in North Carolina were once widely hunted for their astonishingly beautiful feathers for decorating hats before conservation laws were established to protect them from extinction.

8. Black-crowned Night-Heron

Black-crowned Night-Heron
by diana_robinson is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Black-crowned Night Heron is next on our list of types of herons in North Carolina.

This wading bird has black and gray wings and a white head with a distinctive black crown.

It lives primarily near the state’s shallow rivers, wetlands, open fields, and marshes. 

The Black-crowned Night Heron is an omnivore that feeds on insects, fish, frogs, and small mammals.

During the winter months, it migrates south to milder climates along coastal regions of the southeastern United States and Mexico.

It can be seen in the springtime in North Carolina as they return to their summer habitats, settling near ponds, lakes, and rivers throughout the region. 

They are most active at night, when they can often be heard calling out to one another during the breeding season.

This solitary hunter uses its long bill to skilfully snatch food items out of water or surprise unsuspecting prey hiding in tall grasses.

Its population appears stable throughout North Carolina, allowing this graceful heron to remain a common sight during summer months in coastal areas across the state.

9. Least Bittern

Least Bittern
by Len Blumin is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Least Bittern is also on our list of types of herons in North Carolina, typically during migratory periods from May through early June and August through late October.

This small heron has a brown back and chest, yellowish legs, and a dark bill with distinctive orange streaks on the sides.

It can be difficult to spot as it prefers inclement weather with low light conditions, adapting well to its marshy habitats along coastal streams and rivers. 

Least Bitterns hunt by standing still or wading slowly while they search for food, such as insects and crayfish close to shorelines or amidst dense vegetal cover.

This species is endangered due to habitat loss and water pollution caused by agricultural activities flooding wetlands used by bitterns.

Conservation efforts are underway to protect this unique bird species with great success thus far, increasing their population across various parts of North Carolina.

10. Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret
by Charles Patrick Ewing is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Cattle Egret is a species of heron found in various locations throughout North Carolina.

These small, white types of herons in North Carolina are familiar on most farmlands in the state’s rural areas and in many marsh and wetland habitats.

Cattle Egrets are typically 6-9 inches long with white feathers and an orange or yellow bill.

They can be recognized by their bright orange or yellow legs and feet.

During mating season, the males often have distinctive red patches on their wings that can be used for display.

These types of herons in North Carolina prefer open landscapes such as grasslands, savannahs, and wetlands edges because they feed mainly on insects disturbed by grazing animals like cows, horses, or wild deer. 

These types of herons in North Carolina normally hunt during the day by perching on one leg while simultaneously scanning the ground for potential prey items with one eye each.

Once they spot something edible such as crickets or other small insect pests, they strike quickly to grab it from the ground before flying off again to escape predators or danger.

They also sometimes use their sharp bills to perform ‘broom sweeping,’ bending down slowly along vegetation to catch small invertebrates hiding in difficult places to reach. 

Like other types of herons in North Carolina, Cattle Egrets build nests in late spring using sticks and twigs collected from the surrounding area around them.

The female usually lays between 3-5 eggs which hatch after 20-25 days of incubation.

Both parents are responsible for feeding the young until they become fledgling enough to spread their wings and fly away into the world at around 8 weeks old. 

In North Carolina, Cattle Egrets provide an important ecological service, naturally controlling pest populations that could otherwise damage crops or cause health issues if allowed to get out of balance with nature’s delicate equilibrium system in place here through natural selection processes over centuries of evolutionary adaptation time spans.

Still, these graceful flyers are not exempt from environmental danger themselves facing subtle threats posed by global climate change rapid ecosystem changes. 

This species necessitates greater protection from our government bodies so that generations can continue to witness their beauty as part of our nation’s natural heritage, moving forward into a brighter future for us all together, safe under God’s great care eternally here still home sweet home!

11. Green Heron

Green Heron
by Franco Folini is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Lastly, Green Herons, also known as Common Green Herons or Green-Backed Herons, are a species of wading bird found year-round in North Carolina.

They are widespread and can be found across the United States, living in forests, wetlands, marshes, ponds, swamps, and bayous. 

One of the most recognizable coastal types of herons in North Carolina urban areas is the grayish-green heron with its elegant neck and black legs.

These birds are relatively small compared to other heron species and usually measure around 45cm long with a wingspan just shy of 1m.

Their upper parts are dark greenish-gray, and their bellies are rusty buff. 

The most striking feature of the Green Heron is its yellow eyes contrasted against its dark bill and brownish cap that runs up over the back of the head.

This helps them remain camouflaged while hunting aquatic prey by standing motionless in shallow water or perched on tree branches near shorelines or wetlands.

They primarily feed on small fish, insects, frogs, crayfish, lizards, and other small animals they find in the water or by stalking them on land. 

When food becomes restricted during colder months, they may also feed on grains like rice or wheat, which they sometimes steal from fields near water sources. 

 Green Herons typically breed during summertime in North Carolina, although they may sometimes begin nesting as early as late April if conditions permit it.

They build their nests within trees up to 10ft high located near bodies of water, with multiple nests often built close together for added protection against predators like hawks or snakes who like to feast upon eggs or young chicks.


North Carolina is a great place to observe the diverse types of herons.

With seventeen species native to the area and many more that visit in the winter, there is a lot of variety to be seen!

This state provides great opportunities for bird lovers to observe these majestic types of herons in North Carolina in their natural habitats. 

While most species have been observed along rivers, lakes, and wetlands, some can also be found along the coastlines or roadside ditches.

With close attention and careful observation, anyone can enjoy the beauty of the different types of herons in North Carolina.

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