How to Identify a Little Blue Heron

Updated: May 07, 2024

Learn what a little blue heron looks like, sounds like and where to spot one. Also find out what these birds eat and where they nest.

What Does a Little Blue Heron Look Like?

This adult Little Blue Heron was photographed at Merritt Island on the Atlantic Coast of Florida.Rob Ripma
Adult little blue heron at Merritt Island, Florida

Little blue herons are about half the height and have half the wingspan of great blue herons. Like most wading birds, these herons are typically spotted near water, looking for prey. It’s their dark color that really sets them apart.

Erika Zambello, communications director for Audubon Florida, says, “Adult little blue herons are very distinctive. Their feathers are dark blue and purple, giving them a very dark silhouette as they forage in wetlands.

Despite their name, Erika says these birds are more closely related to snowy egrets than great blue herons.

Discover more types of egrets and herons found in North America.

Juvenile Little Blue Heron

This might not look like a Little Blue Heron but young birds are white for their first year of their life.Rob Ripma
The young herons are white for the first year of their life.

Although adult little blue herons are dark blue, the young birds are all white. This makes them look more like snowy or cattle egrets.

“Their bills, however, are blue with a dark tip, which is similar to their bills as adults,” Erika says.

359516495 1 Hannah Mooney Bnb Pc 2023Courtesy Hannah Mooney
The little blue heron molts into dark blue plumage after its first year.

As the young little blue herons begin to molt into their adult plumage in the spring, they get a pied or patchy look with both white and dark blue feathers.

Little Blue Heron Range

275512962 1 Phyllis Clark Cou Gart V2Courtesy Phyllis Clark
Little Blue Heron at Sweetwater Wetlands in Gainesville, Florida

In North America, the little blue heron can be found year-round in Florida and the Southeastern U.S.

During summer, their range extends inland. Rob Ripma, owner of Sabrewing Nature Tours, says, “Although they don’t breed in the Midwest where I live, they can be found here in the late summer. It’s almost always birds that were hatched earlier in the summer that arrive.”

Rob notes that this post-breeding dispersal into the Midwest doesn’t happen every year, but you can track recent sightings on eBird.

Little Blue Heron Habitat

little blue heronCourtesy Shelly Marbut
Little blue heron in a lake

“They will use any kind of wetland, where they patrol the shallow edges for food,” Erika says. This includes lakes, ponds, ditches, wet fields, rivers, and more. “They depend on wetlands to survive and thrive, and it puts their populations at risk when wetlands are drained and developed.”

Some studies have found that their numbers have fallen by almost 50 percent since the 1960s as the birds have lost habitat.

Rob says, “The little blue heron’s population is unfortunately making a slow decline. Even though breeding sites are protected, the wetlands that they feed in are disappearing.”

Head to the shore to see beach birds.

What Do Little Blue Herons Eat?

275455572 1 Kurt Kirchmer Bnb Bypc 2021Courtesy Kurt Kirchmer
Little blue heron fishing for food.

These birds mostly eat small fish, but Erica says they are also known to eat amphibians, large insects and crustaceans.

Nesting Habits

309222731 1 Anthony Lofrese Bnb Pc 2022Courtesy Anthony Lofrese
Male retuning to the nest to take care of the hatchlings

Erika says, “Little blue herons nest in colonies with other wading birds, like herons, egrets, and ibis. They use sticks and twigs to build their nests.”

The female lays three to four blueish eggs. Both parents bring food back for the young.

Learn more about great egret nests.

Sound and Calls

Bird sounds courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology 

According to Erika, the birds are mostly silent, and when they do make noise, it’s a guttural croak.

About the Experts

  • Erika Zambello is the communications director for Audubon Florida. A former National Geographic Young Explorer, she has a master’s degree in environmental management, ecosystem science and conservation from Duke University.
  • Rob Ripma is co-owner of Sabrewing Nature Tours. He is the past president of the Board of the Amos Butler Audubon Society in Indianapolis and secretary for Ohio’s Black Swamp Bird Observatory. Rob is also a co-founder of the Indiana Young Birders Club.


  • Audubon Florida
  • Cornell Lab of Ornithology
  • National Audubon Society – little blue heron

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