A medium-sized (26 inches) wader, the Tricolored Heron is most easily identified by its contrasting white belly and slate-gray body. Other field marks include a rusty-brown neck, white rump, and long dark bill. Male and female Tricolored Herons are similar to one another in all seasons. The Tricolored Heron breeds along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States from Texas to southern Maine, and breeds further inland in Florida. In winter, this species withdraws from the northern part of its range, and may be found in the southern part of its east coast range, along the coast of Southern California, and inland in Mexico and Central America. Non-migratory populations also exist along the coast of Central and South America. Tricolored Herons breed in a number of wetland habitat types, including freshwater and saltwater marshes, coastal lagoons, and estuaries. This species may also be found in Mangrove wetlands in parts of its range where this habitat occurs, particularly in winter. Tricolored Herons mainly eat fish, but may also take crustaceans and small vertebrates (such as frogs, lizards, and mice) when the opportunity arises. Tricolored Herons may be best observed wading in shallow water, where they may be seen plunging their bills into the water to catch fish. It is also possible to see Tricolored Herons returning to trees to roost at sunset, or while flying with their feet extended and their necks pulled in. Tricolored Herons are primarily active during the day.
Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) BREEDS: central Baja California, southern Sonora, southeastern New Mexico, northern Texas, Gulf Coast, and Atlantic coast north to southern Maine, south along both coasts of Middle America to coastal northern South America (on Pacific coast to central Peru, Atlantic-Caribbean coast to northeastern Brazil); also Bahamas, Greater Antilles, western Caribbean islands. Breeds casually or rarely inland in North Dakota and Kansas. NORTHERN WINTER: north to Baja California, southeastern Texas, Gulf Coast, and New Jersey, south through the breeding range. In the U.S., most abundant in winter along the Texas-Louisiana coast and in Florida (Root 1988). Wanders irregularly outside usual range, especially after breeding.
These herons are found in eastern and southern North America (along coast of Maine, through Texas and along both coasts of Mexico), Central America (coastal areas), the West Indies, and coastal South America to the mouth of the Amazon river in Brazil on the Atlantic coast, and to northern Peru on the Pacific coast.
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); neotropical (Native )
occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Transient
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Tricolored herons are medium-sized birds with the long legs and neck characteristic of herons and egrets. Legs are yellow in the non-breeding season and pink in the breeding season. In flight and at rest Egretta tricolor holds its neck at a curve, similar to a "S". They have a rather long and pointed bill that, in the non-breeding season, is yellow with a black tip. In the breeding season, the yellow turns to blue. Their underside and neck is a white, a characteristic that is unique to this particular species, but makes them very difficult to find because they blend into the vegetation in their habitat.
The young are differently colored than the adults and have a "rich chestnut head and neck...and chestnut feathering on blue-gray back" (Robbins, et al., 1966).
Mass: 415g = males, 334g = females
Range length: 25 to 30 cm.
Average wingspan: 38 cm.
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
- Robbins, C., B. Bruun, B. Zim. 1966. Birds of North America. New York: Western Publishing Company, Inc..
Length: 66 cm
Weight: 415 grams
Differs from great blue heron in being smaller (length 66 cm vs. 117 cm), in having a white rump, in lacking black streaks on the white foreneck, and in not having black stripes on the head or a black crown. No other long-necked heron has a white foreneck and belly.
The tricolored heron is a "...bird of shallow marshes and shores, using mudflats, mangrove swamps and bays" (Hancock & Kushman, 1984). They often prefer mangroves, swamps of freshwater and the outskirts of rivers to live in. There have been exceptions found to these habitat areas; tricolored heron colonies have been found living on dry ground and still others at high altitudes.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial ; saltwater or marine ; freshwater
Aquatic Biomes: rivers and streams; coastal ; brackish water
Wetlands: marsh ; swamp
Other Habitat Features: estuarine
- Hancock, J., J. Kushlan. 1984. The Herons Handbook. New York: Harper and Row Publishers.
Habitat and Ecology
Comments: Marshes, ponds, sloughs, bayous, rivers, mangrove swamps, saltwater lagoons, islands; salt and fresh water.
Nests mainly near salt water in mangroves or buttonwood, in thickets of tidal marshes, willow thickets or rushes of freshwater marshes, on Texas island sites in dry thickets, large cane, and prickly pear, and on bare coastal islands in grass. Nests often with other herons/egrets.
Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.
Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Northern breeders have been recorded south to Panama (Hilty and Brown 1986).
Tricolored herons usually stand in shallow water to find and catch prey. The bird has many different types of prey-catching behaviors. Hancock and Kushlan call their most frequent form of prey catching behavior a "walk-quickly-running-open wing tactile sequence" (Hancock & Kushlan, 1984). Egretta tricolor's prey catching behavior is varied depending on the habitat in which they live, but almost all their food is found in shallow waters. Unlike other heron species which change their diet depending on changing environmental conditions, the tricolored heron changes "...their foraging habitats and feeding strategies in order to continue to encounter preferred prey items" (Hill, 2001).
Ninety percent of the diet of Egretta tricolor is composed of fish. It also eats "...amphibians, crustaceans, gastropods, leeches, worms, spiders, and insects..." (Hancock & Elliott, 1978).
Animal Foods: amphibians; fish; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods; mollusks; aquatic or marine worms
Primary Diet: carnivore (Piscivore )
- Hancock, J., H. Elliott. 1978. The Herons of the World. New York: Harper and Row Publishers.
- Hill, K. 2001. "Species Report: Egretta tricolor" (On-line). Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce. Accessed 03/10/02 at http://www.sms.si.edu/IRLSpec/Egretta_Tricol.htm.
Comments: Eats mainly small fishes, also various small aquatic animals obtained in shallow water.
Since many wading birds are environmentally sensitive, including the Tricolored Heron, they make good indicator species. In looking at a number of conditions of wading birds, including containment accumulation in chicks, trace elements in feathers, eggshell thickness and quality, genetic damage, deformities, time of nesting, mortality, clutch size, hatching and fledging success, and growth rates of young, scientists and researchers can evaluate the health of the ecosystem and the quality of the habitat in which these birds live (Kushlan & Hafner, 2000).
- Hancock, J. 2000. Herons of the World: Their World in Focus. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
- Rattner, B., N. Golden, J. Cohen, L. Garrett, R. Erwin, M. Ottinger, J. Pearson. 2001. "Tricolored Heron" (On-line). Biological and Ecotoxicological Characteristics of Terrestrial Vertebrates. Accessed 03/10/2002 at http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bioeco/.
Tricolored herons, especially pairs, fight off any predators. I found no predator information specifically regarding the tricolored heron, so the following are predators of herons in general: raccoons, crows and ravens will eat eggs and nestlings, and owls will feed on adults as well as young. Turkey vultures will come and eat any leftovers, since they feed on dead animals
- raccoons (Procyon lotor)
- crows (Corvus)
- common ravens (Corvus corax)
- turkey vultures (Cathartes aura)
- owls (Strigiformes)
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Known prey organisms
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Usually solitary except when breeding (Hilty and Brown 1986).
Life History and Behavior
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Comments: Forages during daylight (Powell 1987).
Tricolored herons may live as long as 17 years in the wild.
Status: wild: 17 (high) years.
Status: wild: 212 months.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
The male chooses the nesting site before mating with the female. The female lays eggs on a nest constructed of "...sticks placed on a bed of reeds or in a tree" which the female and male build together.
Mating System: monogamous
Tricolored Herons begin nesting in early to mid-March and tend to make their nest when the water in their habitat has receded. This tendency seems to exist because "low water levels help to concentrate prey in a small area, thereby making it simpler for parent birds to feed nestlings" (Hill, 2001). When the water is low the parents do not have to go far to find food for their newly hatched young and can minimize their energy requirements during this important time when they need to concentrate on the success of their offspring. Receded water also helps in the foraging success of the offspring so that they can easily find food when they are young. Female Tricolored Herons lay approximately 3-4 bluish eggs per clutch, with one clutch per year.
The chicks of the Egretta tricolor hatch over a several day period making the first chick to hatch more experienced at food foraging and aggressive encounters with other chicks in his/her brood. Therefore the first chick to hatch has an advantage over its nestmates and often has a better survival rate compared with the other chicks.
The female Egretta tricolor lays, on average, 3-4 bluish colored eggs once a year. She lays one egg every other day. Both the female and male Tricolored Heron take turns sitting on the nest. The young hatch after a 3 week incubation period, several days apart from one another. The parents bring food to the young and allow the young to forage near the nesting site. The young are ready to fly at about 35 days of age and then go off on their own, since adults are mostly solitary.
As in all wading birds, nest success can be greatly compromised by cold weather, predation, and water levels that have not receded.
Breeding season: begin nesting in early to mid-March
Range eggs per season: 3 to 4.
Range time to hatching: 21 to 25 days.
Average fledging age: 35 days.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); oviparous
Both the male and female care for the young after they hatch. The parents gather food which they regurgitate for their offspring. The chicks fledge in about 35 days after hatching and go off on their own.
Parental Investment: precocial ; male parental care ; female parental care
Clutch size is usually 3-4. Incubation, by both sexes, lasts 21 days? Young are tended by both parents; by 24 days are fed away from nest; fledging occurs within 4 weeks. Nests in small or large colonies.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Egretta tricolor
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Egretta tricolor
Public Records: 3
Specimens with Barcodes: 3
Species With Barcodes: 1
The populations of Tricolored Herons seem to have remained stable or increased in all of their habitats in the United States except for Texas and southern Florida (Kushlan & Hafner, 2000).
US Migratory Bird Act: protected
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
State of Michigan List: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
- Kushlan, J., H. Hafner. 2000. Heron Conservation. London: Academic Press.
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable
Rounded National Status Rank: N5B,N5N : N5B: Secure - Breeding, N5N: Secure - Nonbreeding
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Reasons: Very large range; secure globally, but regional trends are unknown for most areas.
Comments: Threats include development and disturbance of nesting and foraging habitat; storms and shoreline erosion sometimes have adverse effects (Byrd and Johnston 1991).
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
There are no known adverse effects of Egretta tricolor on humans.
Egretta tricolor eats insects, including mosquitos, that are irritating pests to humans. They are also a biological indicator which will help determine if other species in the habitat are healthy or are in danger due to enviornmental conditions. This directly effects humans in that many species of fish that live in the same habitats as tricolored herons are frequently eaten by humans and are an economically important food source.
Positive Impacts: controls pest population
|This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (November 2010)|
The tricolored heron (Egretta tricolor), formerly known in North America as the Louisiana heron, is a small heron. It is a resident breeder from the Gulf states of the USA and northern Mexico south through Central America and the Caribbean to central Brazil and Peru. There is some post-breeding dispersal to well north of the nesting range.
Tricolored heron's breeding habitat is sub-tropical swamps. It nests in colonies, often with other herons, usually on platforms of sticks in trees or shrubs. In each clutch, 3–7 eggs are typically laid.
This species measures from 56 to 76 cm (22 to 30 in) long and has a wingspan of 96 cm (38 in). The slightly larger male heron weighs 415 g (14.6 oz) on average, while the female averages 334 g (11.8 oz). It is a medium-large, long-legged, long-necked heron with a long pointed yellowish or greyish bill with a black tip. The legs and feet are dark.
Adults have a blue-grey head, neck, back and upperwings, with a white line along the neck. The belly is white. In breeding plumage, they have long blue filamentous plumes on the head and neck, and buff ones on the back.
- BirdLife International (2012). "Egretta tricolor". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- "Tricolored Heron". All About Birds. Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
- "Biological and Ecotoxicological Characteristics of Terrestrial Vertebrate Species Residing in Estuaries: Tricolored Heron". USGS.
- Hilty, Steven L. (2003). Birds of Venezuela. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-7136-6418-5.
- Field Guide to the Birds of North America. National Geographic. ISBN 0-7922-6877-6.
- Stiles, F. Gary; Skutch, Alexander F. (1989). A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Comstock Publishing Associates. ISBN 0-8014-9600-4.
Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Often placed in monotypic genus Hydranassa (AOU 1983).