Grey heron

Ardea cinerea

Grey heron, photo: Tallinn Environment Department

The most common and widespread heron in Europe and the only one who permanently stays in Northern Europe. Adult birds are equably light grey, white, and black-greyish; their heads are whitish with a dark eye stripe and a tuft on the back of the head. A thick sharp beak and a long neck, which is often pulled in. Their nest is fluffy, transparent, and in the shape of an inverted cone. Their flight is powerful with heavy strokes – uniformly dark wings are strongly curved downwards and necks retracted, not outstretched (as is the case with cranes and storks). Despite their size, they can often remain unnoticed while they motionlessly lurk in the reed-bed, between coastal stones, or on top of a tree. They feed on fish, shore animals, and insects. They often nest in groups on top of trees in forests (coppices). They make nests high on top of trees, very close to other grey herons. They form colonies where other bird species may also nest. The chicks are helpless when they hatch and will be able to stand up after half a month. Grey herons go on one of the longest trips among birds in the autumn: to Southwest Africa. That is why they leave as early as in September. At the same time, they are one of the first arrivals in the spring, often arriving in Estonia at the end of March. At that time, waterbodies are usually still frozen and birds find it difficult to cope.