Animals -> Birds -> Other Birds -> Herons


Several cultures including the Upper Stalo were reported to eat “fish-cranes” [1], which likely refers to one of several species of herons and heron-like birds. The Plains Cree were known to eat a “water heron” of unspecified species [2]. The Great Blue Heron is reported to have been eaten by the Red Earth Cree and Micmac (Mi'kmaq) [3, 4]. The American Bittern was reported to have been hunted by the Red Earth Cree [4]. The Tlingit and Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw) captured herons of unspecific species using snares that were weighed down with rocks in shallow water. They also used baited gorges attached to nets stretched across a stream [5]. Northern Straits cultures knew not to hunt heron with raised duck nets because the bird’s sharp vision allowed it to see the net and the flocks would fly over this trap [6, 7].

Herons were usually roasted or boiled by the Southern Okanagan and Flathead, among other groups [8, 9]. The Coast Salish would stew heron [10]. Among the mainland Comox, the flesh of the Great Blue Heron was eaten, and the heron’s fat held special medicinal value [5]. The Southern Okanagan would use heron wings to make brushes [8].


1.         Duff W: The Upper Stalo Indians of the Fraser Valley, British Columbia. Victoria,B.C.: British Columbia Provincial Museum; 1952.

2.         Mandelbaum DG: The Plains Cree: An Ethnographic, Historical, and Comparative Study, vol. 1st edition. Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center; 1979.

3.         Speck FG, Dexter RW: Utilization of animals and plants by the Micmac Indians of New Brunswick. Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences 1951, 41(8):250-259.

4.         Meyer D: Appendix I: Plants, Animals and Climate; Appendix IV: Subsistence-Settlement Patterns. In: The Red Earth Crees, 1860-1960. Volume 1st edition, edn.: National Musem of Man Mercury Series; 1985: 175-185-200-223.

5.         Suttles W (ed.): Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 7: Northwest Coast. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution; 1990.

6.         Nelson RK: Hunters of The Northern Ice. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press; 1969.

7.         Suttles WP: Coast Salish and Western Washington Indians. In: Coast Salish and Western Washington Indians The Economic Life of the Coast Salish of Haro and Rosario Straits. edn. New York & London: Garland Publishing Inc.; 1974.

8.         Post RH: The Subsistence Quest. In: The Sinkaietk or Southern Okanagan of Washington. edn. Edited by Spier L. Menasha, Wisconsin, U. S. A.: George Banta Publishing Company Agent; 1938: 11-33.

9.         Hungry Wolf A: Charlo's People: The Flathead Tribe of Montana. Invermere, B.C.: Good Medicine Books; 1974.

10.       Batdorf C: Northwest Native Harvest. Surrey, B.C: Hancock House Publishers Ltd.; 1990.

Herons, like bitterns and egrets, are part of a family of medium to large, long-legged birds that are related to the pelicans. They are closely associated with water and consume aquatic prey in near-shore areas. They are tall and slim with long wings, legs, toes, neck, and bill. Most herons have long, hairy feathers on the head, breast, and/or back. When they fly, unlike cranes, their long neck is coiled and the head is brought closer to the body. They can breed in large colonies, are monogamous, and both parents participate in incubation and care of the young [1]. In North America, members of the heron family include the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) and the American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus).

The Great Blue Heron is widespread, occurring year-round along the Pacific coast, from Alaska to Mexico, along the Atlantic coast, from Maritime provinces to the Gulf of Mexico, and throughout most interior United States, except in the Rockies. Some populations are migratory and spend the summer breeding season in southern Canada, from Quebec to Alberta. They are the largest North American heron, but are smaller than cranes, measuring over 1.5 m tall and weighing between 2.2 and 2.5 kg. Great Blue Herons are mostly gray with black and white streaks along the midline of the foreneck, a yellowish bill and eyes, a white face and crown, and a dark blue band from above the eyes to the behind the head [2].

The American Bittern also breeds widely throughout central North America, but most migrate to more southern overwintering range. They are a medium-sized member of the heron family, weighing between 370 and 500 g, and have brownish cryptic colours to camouflage in wetland habitats [3]. 


1.         Kushlan JA: Herons. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2005.

2.         Vennesland RG, Butler RW: Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 2011.

3.         Lowther P, Poole AF, Gibbs JP, Melvin S, Reid FA: American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 2009.


Distribution maps provided below, unless otherwise stated, were obtained from Birds of North America Online, maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and all pictures provided below were obtained from Encyclopedia of Life
Great Blue Heron
Supplier: Wikimedia Commons
Photographer: Mike Baird from Morro Bay, USA
American Bittern
Supplier: Wikimedia Commons
Photographer: Steve Deger