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New Jersey Endangered and Threatened Species Field Guide
Species Group: Bird
State: Special Concern (Breeding)
The tricolored heron is a medium-sized heron with a slate gray to dark blue upper neck, wings, and upper body and a white throat, rump, and belly. It has a slender build, long neck, long grayish-yellow legs, and a dark-tipped bill which is yellow near its base. The back portion of their body is covered with purplish to chestnut-colored feathers. Males and females look similar. They grow to a length of 26 inches with a wingspan of 36 inches.
During the non-breeding season, this heron’s lores are yellow. In the breeding season, the adult’s lores and the base of the bill become turquoise and long plumes will develop on the bird’s crest and back.
DISTRIBUTION AND HABITAT
The tricolored heron breeds as far north as southern Maine. They are a year-round resident in the southeastern US, West Indies, Mexico, and as far south as northern South America. They typically occur in New Jersey only during their breeding season.
This is primarily a coastal species in New Jersey. They will breed near fresh, brackish, or salt water. Nesting locations within New Jersey have only been documented along the shorelines of Barnegat Bay and south. However, they will forage in water bodies and marsh outside of the coastal area.
Tricolored herons’ preferred habitat is wetland and forest bordering saltwater bodies. They nest in trees or shrubs by fresh or salt water and forage in and alongside water bodies. Nests are usually between 2-12 feet above the ground.
Tricolored herons feed on aquatic invertebrates and fish. They feed by standing or walking slowly in or alongside water. When they see prey, they then spear it with their sharp bill.
The tricolored heron’s breeding season begins in mid-April and usually ends by late August. They nest in colonies which are often quite large and may be occupied by other heron and egret species as well.
The female builds the nest while the male delivers nesting material to her. Three or four pale greenish-blue eggs are laid and then incubated by both adults for 21-25 days. The nestlings are semialtrical and are cared for by both adults. The young can leave the nest by 11 days old.
CURRENT STATUS, THREATS, AND CONSERVATION
Currently, the greatest threat to the tricolored heron is habitat loss and degradation together with disturbance of nesting colonies. Wetland destruction has caused a decrease in heron populations from their historic numbers. Since the 1950s, habitat loss has occurred at an alarming rate in New Jersey, destroying wetlands critical to breeding herons. This species is listed as Special Concern during the breeding and non-breeding seasons.
Like many species in New Jersey, protecting tricolored herons is closely tied with protecting their wetland habitats. Strong environmental laws to protect wetlands from disturbance and development help to protect wetlands and the heron.
We still have much to learn about the biology and population status of tricolored herons in New Jersey. Research needs to be completed to find additional breeding sites, check existing nesting areas, and determine whether the population might be decreasing or increasing.
Text written by Michael J. Davenport in 2011.
Species: E. tricolor
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