8 Types of Herons in Wisconsin

Types of Herons in Wisconsin
Photo by Yuan Yue

Herons are a type of freshwater wetland bird found in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin’s tall, long-legged types of herons use their bills to catch and eat small fish, frogs, insects, and other aquatic prey from shallow wetlands in the mid to northern parts of the state. 

Several species of heron call Wisconsin home, including the Great Blue Heron, the Great Egret, the Snowy Egret, and the Green Heron, the smallest species of all.

All these types of herons in Wisconsin have been recorded nesting in various areas throughout Wisconsin and can be found foraging for food throughout much of the state.

1. Great Blue Heron

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

The Great Blue Heron is the first on our list of types of herons in Wisconsin. It is a majestic wading bird found in Wisconsin’s wetlands, marshes, and rivers.

It’s a large, stately species and can easily be recognized by its long shaggy feathers and long legs. 

This species is also most active during the morning hours of dawn, typically foraging for food along riverbanks and in shallow waters.

The Great Blue Heron stands around 3 to 4.5 feet tall and usually has wingspans at shoulder height between 3.2 to 5 feet in length.

Its head is crowned with long plumes, while its back and wings are colored slate-gray. On the underside of its wings are chestnut colors that peek out at times, especially during flight.

The Great Blue Heron’s neck features a white line that runs down the front, making it distinct from other types of herons in Wisconsin.  

The Great Blue Heron typically feeds on fish but eats amphibians, invertebrates, rodents, small reptiles, and insects when available within their habitat range.

Foraging takes place in shallow waters or on land utilizing its long shaggy body feathers for insulation against cold water temperatures when fishing on snow-covered ice patches during winter. 

Nests are carefully constructed high off the ground near the edge of standing water sources such as wetlands or lake shoreline vegetation clusters made from sticks and twigs lined with grasses usually built near the tops of trees overlooking clear shallow pools ideal for fishing sites.

Their global population remains low due to pollution concerns yet continues strong through selective conservation efforts throughout Wisconsin riverside habitats.

Such as portions of the Lake Winnebago area supporting healthy nesting sites among select forests offering natural protection from predators like Bald Eagles common within these regions. 

2. Black-crowned Night-Heron

Black-crowned Night-Heron 
by Charles Patrick Ewing is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Wisconsin is home to some of the most fascinating and beautiful species of birds, one of which is the Black-crowned Night-heron.

These types of herons in Wisconsin are common in wetlands throughout Wisconsin and can be identified by their brown upper feathers and gray underside. 

The Black-crowned Night-heron is mainly found in freshwater marshes, shallow lakes, oxbow ponds, wet meadows, and along rivers.

They are sometimes spotted near large bodies of water in urban areas or near the coasts. 

Within Wisconsin, they are commonly seen around the Great Lakes region and along major rivers such as the Fox River from Green Bay down to Madison. 

Black-crowned night herons feed in shallow waters on vegetation, frogs, insects, crustaceans, and even small fish – but also have been known to eat eggs or young birds in some cases.

Depending on where they live, they may forage at any time during the day or night; however, in Wisconsin, they’ll likely be active at nighttime to avoid predators like hawks. 

They prefer roosting in trees with dense foliage during daylight hours while hunting around sunset or sunrise when possible predators are less active.

Being highly social types of herons in Wisconsin, they often travel together in flocks of several dozen individuals searching for food sources.

3. Green Heron

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

Wisconsin is home to many types of herons, including the Green Heron. The Green Heron is incredibly secretive and is one of the only species of its kind in North America.

These types of herons in Wisconsin are special in their own right, and Wisconsin residents should feel honored that they understand some up close. 

Green Herons have dark greenish-black heads with white cheeks and a buffy brown chestnut collar around their necks. They have long necks, making them stand taller than other herons.

Their backs are lightly colored dark blue, where white stripes run down along their length, while their wings are also light blue, which sometimes blends together, making them look almost invisible as they fly. 

The Green Heron’s main food source consists of small aquatic prey like fish and invertebrates such as insects and crayfish, but not limited to those items.

However, in certain circumstances, they won’t hesitate to eat frogs, lizards, or even mice if given an opportunity.

When foraging for food, these birds use a specific technique to stand still on the edge of a body of water, patiently waiting to spot prey down below, then dipping their head under the water, swiftly snatching up the victim before returning above the surface again.

All this behavior that can be seen on land or air scenes makes them particularly unique among other related species. 

When summer comes, these types of herons in Wisconsin start nesting near shallow wetlands, marshes, or swamps.

Ideally, when the mating time arrives, pairs will conspire with already-made nests made from sticks near overhanging branches for extra protection from weather conditions and predators alike when incubating eggs or caring for young ones.

Afterward, during June or July, depending on location found mostly in midwestern states like Wisconsin, for example.

4. American Bittern

American Bittern
by USFWS Pacific is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

American Bitterns are one of many types of herons in Wisconsin. They are large solitary birds most commonly seen in marshes, wet meadows, and alongside lake shores.

Our article has looked into the biology and habits of American Bitterns as well as their current status in the state of Wisconsin. 

The American Bittern is a large gray-brown wading bird with a long neck. Its erect yellow-brown stripe on its crown and down its back sets it apart from other herons worldwide.

An adult can measure between 28-38 inches in size with a wingspan ranging from 36-41 inches.

Its call is unique among its species due to its low booming noise that sounds like “poom.” 

American Bitterns prefer shallow wetlands with dense vegetation, such as reeds and tall grasses, where they find food like fish, frogs, and small mammals.

They hunt by standing motionless at the water’s edge, waiting silently in the marshy vegetation, or flying low over wetland habitats on their nest migration routes during winter.

The species significantly prefers non-wetlands that offer additional space for breeding sites and feeding grounds. 

Wisconsin has a general statewide abundance of this heron population, but specific locations along Lake Michigan have been identified as important locations with higher densities of these birds.

While external factors may impact this population, projects to protect them are conducted, resulting in conservation success stories for some areas across Wisconsin.

Conservationists are currently recommending strategies for land management decisions concerning habitat protection to ensure future successful significant populations of American Bitterns nest across Wisconsin.

5. Least Bittern

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

The least bittern is a small, secretive bird that can be found in the shallow wetlands of Wisconsin.

It is the smallest heron species in North America and one of the types of herons in Wisconsin, making it an interesting species to look out for if you plan on exploring the great outdoors.

This article will cover two key facts about this amazing bird. 

Least bitterns are typically 8-11 inches long with a wingspan of 18-19 inches.

They have olive-brown coloring on their upper bodies and streaked yellowish-brown feathers on their wings and tail feathers. 

The underparts of these types of herons in Wisconsin are white with a pale yellow throat patch, eye stripe, and ear patch.

Adult males have darker reddish feathers from neck to breast, which helps them differentiate from females. 

Least bitterns prefer shallow wetlands like marshes and swamps but also utilize other kinds of environments like streams, lakeshores, ditches, and cattail marshes for nesting and foraging activities.

These usually contain lots of water plants where they can hunt tiny fishes, invertebrates, amphibians, or reptiles.

These types of herons in Wisconsin are migratory species though some may be year-round residents depending upon their location.

They winter southwards along the Gulf Coast in Mexico or even further south into South America while returning north to Wisconsin; during springtime, temperatures start warming up again.

6. Great Egret

The Great Egret is the quintessential heron species for the state of Wisconsin.

The graceful wading birds have a unique beauty and dazzling white plumage that makes them easy to recognize in marshlands and wooded areas.

Here, we’ll explain more about their adaptation in Wisconsin, including their diet, nesting behavior, migratory patterns, and even the threats they face. 

Not only is the Great Egret an elegant sight to behold over our bodies of water in Wisconsin, but it also has a big appetite, eating fish such as bass and perch and amphibians like frogs and snakes.

They often hunt by standing still with their beaks elongated into the water before swiftly grabbing prey with sharp bills. 

Great Egrets also nest near lakes and riverside wetlands with ample food sources and plenty of found debris from which to build nests. 

The majority of the Great Egrets in Wisconsin are summer residents, migrating northward from states like Florida during the spring months between March-May and then returning south between September-December.

Unfortunately, due to the destruction of wetlands habitats dedicated specifically to feeding wetland birds like egrets through urban development or aquatic resource management such as dam building or coastal dredging, great egret numbers have steadily declined in recent years.

That is why programs such as Audubon are so important in helping protect these vital ecosystems that provide habitat essential to egrets’ well-being.

7. Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret
by Franco Folini is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Snowy Egret is a majestic wading bird commonly found in the estuarine, marsh, and wetland habitats along the eastern parts of North America.

The snowy egret is fascinated with water and can be spotted near lagoons, ponds, lakeshores, and mudflats.

Wisconsin is home to many species of these beautiful birds that can be observed from late April to October on their migration path through the state. 

The Snowy Egret stands at an average height of 24 inches tall and has a wingspan of approximately 39-44 inches wide.

They have long yellowish legs, black feet, and white feathers, giving them their namesake. Their bill and lores are also yellow, while the rest of their head is black with striking gold eyes. 

The Snowy Egret prefers shallow areas such as wetlands or marshes where they can find food easily, such as small fish, frogs, or insects.

Additionally, they are often found near lakes or rivers where they easily access fresh water for drinking.

In Wisconsin, they can typically be seen during migration months (April-October) around Lake Superior’s shores in the spring/summer months, while they migrate further south during the winter. 

When looking for food, you’ll often observe Snowy Egrets catching food by walking slowly in shallow waters or actively chasing minnows by plunging directly into the water with their bright yellow feet paddling away swiftly through surface currents.

Additionally, suppose other species are aggressively defending nesting grounds around water bodies.

In that case, the egrets will often intrude on nearby nests, restricting vital resources like food availability for chicks to grow adequately and burdening other species’ chances for survival.

8. Cattle Egret

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

The Cattle Egret is last on our list of types of herons in Wisconsin.

This species is characterized by its white or yellowish-white feathers, black bill and legs, and orange buff when breeding.

Cattle Egrets are opportunistic feeders which take advantage of the changing habitats of farmland, freshwater wetland areas, grasslands, marshes, and pastures.

Cattle Egrets are scattered evenly throughout Wisconsin, making them among the most commonly seen herons.

They frequent dry open fields or grassy meadows and generally find their food sources, such as small mammals and insects, at these locations. 

In the spring, they gather on farms where they feed on large numbers of small rodents attracted to millet plantings and earthworms in recently plowed fields.

In the summer, many will look for food around wetlands or lake margins, sticking to shallow water areas with plenty of vegetation to search through.  

Cattle Egrets roam far north in winter, searching for reliable food sources.

Still, they can be found in open fields throughout the state year-round if availability allows access to regular resources or if humans actively feed them.

They will also hunt along newly flooded waterways and regularly visit farm ponds when food availability is scarce due to temperatures becoming too low for insect activity during extremely cold periods.

These types of herons in Wisconsin are also known to roost in large groups, usually involving more than 100 individuals who could explain their continued presence all year round, even in remote rural areas, despite fluctuations in available habitat types caused by seasonal changes.


Wisconsin is home to different heron species, including the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), Great Egret (Ardea alba), Green Heron (Butorides virescens), Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) and Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis).

These types of herons in Wisconsin benefit Wisconsin’s wetlands and bodies of water, acting as top predators and helping to keep populations of slower-moving or smaller fish in check.

Overall, Wisconsin’s stunning types of herons bring great beauty and ecological value to the state.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like

8 Types of Hawks in Maryland

Are you a bird-watching enthusiast in Maryland? Or have you ever seen different types of hawks in Maryland…