The Grey Heron is a wading bird of the heron family Ardeidae, native throughout temperate Europe, Asia and parts of Africa. It is a large bird, standing up to 100 cm tall and a body length of 84 – 102 cm. It has a large wingspan of up to 2 m and the body weight can range from 1 – 2.1 kg.
The upper body is grey with off-white plumage on its under part. Adults have a white head with the primary flight feathers being black. A very distinctive black band extends over the head into a long slender crest. It has a powerful orange bill which is brighter in breeding adults. It has a slow and majestic flight motion, with its long neck retracted into an S-shape. This characteristic distinguishes them from storks, cranes and spoonbills.
The Grey Heron is a familiar bird around lakes, rivers, pans and also rocky coastlines where it is usually seen hunting in shallow water.
Grey Herons are opportunist feeders, they eat a wide variety of fish, invertebrates, ducklings and land animals, such as rats and young rabbits.
Like most herons they breed in colonies. Mostly in trees along waterways where as many as 10 nests can be found in a single tree. Sometimes they will build their nests on a cliff or in reed beds. They will often mix with other species such as egrets, cormorants and spoonbills. The nest is an untidy platform of sticks around 25 cms in diameter, build in the top of a tall tree. The average clutch size of the grey heron is 3-4 eggs.
They are large birds and not many predators are capable of handling their large size and spear-like beaks, but nests and chicks comes under attack from other birds and snakes.
In medieval times the heron was a favorite quarry of falconers who valued its great flying skills and ability to evade the falcon’s stoops. Roasted heron were also popular at medieval banquets: the young birds, called branchers, were thought to be the best to eat. The fat of a heron killed at full moon was once believed to be a cure for rheumatism.