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Herons (including Egrets and Bitterns)


ORDER : ARDEIFORMES (although some authorities will list under PELECANIFORMES)

Family : Ardeidae, divided into 5 subfamilies, containing some 66 currently recognised extant species under 17 genera.

28 of these species are deemed polymorphic having in excess of 100 accepted subspecies.

Subfamilies :
Ardeinae (typical herons and egrets)
Nycticoracinae (night-herons)
Tigriornithinae (tiger-herons)
Cochleariinae (boat-billed heron)
Botaurinae (Bitterns)

There are two major genera, being Ardea and Egretta, which are both within subfamily Ardeinae.

Genus Butorides, also within subfamily Ardeinae, covers a collective group of 3 species, once called green-backed herons - the Green Heron (sometimes called the Green-backed Heron), the Striated Heron (also known as the Mangrove Heron) and the endemic Lava Heron from Galapagos (regarded by some authorities as a colour morph of the Striated Heron and, therefore, classified as a subspecies).

Genus Ardeola, again in subfamily Ardeinae, covers 6 species regarded as pond herons.

The Heron family of course includes Egrets where the classification of certain species differs depending where information is sourced. This is particularly confusing in respect of the Great Egret, often called the Great White Egret in the ‘Old World’, or in North America the Common or Large Egret, which is listed here as Ardea alba, but may also be noted elsewhere as Egretta alba, or even Casmerodius albus (a previous monotypic genus).

Bitterns are also Herons coming under the genera Botaurus and Ixobrychus, which are within subfamily Botaurinae, Botaurus covers the larger bitterns and Ixobrychus the smaller.

Similar birds such as Storks, Ibises and Spoonbills differ in that they fly with their necks straight, whereas Herons, with the exception of the Whistling Heron, retract their necks into an S-shape.

Herons are a geographically widespread family found in varied habitats across the world. They normally live close to water, whether fresh or sea - the notable exceptions being Cattle Egrets and the Whistling Heron. Most species are at least partially migratory.

The smallest species in the order is the Little Bittern and the largest the Goliath Heron.

Heron taxonomy together with its currently accepted scientific names and their systematic order is known to be involved and, to a degree, variable depending on source data.

The following is a complete adjusted systematic listing at genus level with information taken from various sources, but with particular reference to details and data published by ‘Heron Conservation’, the IUCN-SSC Heron Specialist Group.

This list is for personal reference, which is why certain species (27no) are highlighted – these being the species that I have both seen and photographed.


Subfamily : Ardeinae (typical herons and egrets), with 39 extant species under 7 genera
  • Grey Heron - Ardea cinerea, [4 subspecies]
  • Great Blue Heron - Ardea herodias, [5 subspecies]
  • Cocoi Heron - Ardea cocoi
  • White-necked Heron - Ardea pacifica
  • Great (White) Egret - Ardea alba, [3 subspecies] - or Casmerodius alba, also known as the Common or Large Egret
  • Eastern Great Egret - Ardea modesta, sometimes considered subspecies Ardea alba modesta
  • Intermediate Egret - Ardea intermedia, [3 subspecies] - although often listed as Mesophoyx intermedia
  • Black-headed Heron - Ardea melanocephala
  • Madagascar or Humblots Heron - Ardea humbloti
  • White-bellied Heron - Ardea insignis
  • Sumatran or Great-billed Heron - Ardea sumatrana
  • Goliath Heron - Ardea goliath
  • Purple Heron - Ardea purpurea, [4 subspecies]
  • Cattle Egret - Ardea ibis, [3 subspecies] - although more often listed as Bubulcus ibis
  • Green Heron - Butorides virescens, [4 subspecies] - sometimes called the Green-backed Heron
  • Striated Heron - Butorides striata, [20+ subspecies] - also known as the Mangrove Heron
  • Lava Heron - Butorides sundevalli, sometimes considered subspecies Butorides striata sundevalli
  • Squacco Heron - Ardeola ralloides
  • Indian Pond-Heron - Ardeola grayii, [2 subspecies]
  • Chinese Pond-Heron - Ardeola bacchus
  • Javan Pond-Heron - Ardeola speciosa, [2 subspecies]
  • Malagasy Pond-Heron - Ardeola idae
  • Rufous-bellied Heron - Ardeola rufiventris
  • Reddish Egret - Egretta rufescens, [2 subspecies]
  • Pied Heron - Egretta picata
  • Slaty Egret - Egretta vinaceigula
  • Black Heron - Egretta ardesiaca
  • Tricolored Heron - Egretta tricolor, [2 subspecies]
  • White-faced Heron - Egretta novaehollandiae, [2 subspecies]
  • Little Blue Heron - Egretta caerulea
  • Snowy Egret - Egretta thula, [2 subspecies]
  • Little Egret - Egretta garzetta, [7 subspecies]
  • Chinese Egret - Egretta eulophotes
  • Dimorphic Egret - Egretta dimorpha
  • Pacific Reef-Heron - Egretta sacra, [2 subspecies] - also known as the Eastern Reef-Heron or Pacific Reef Egret
  • Western Reef-Heron - Egretta gularis
  • Whistling Heron - Syrigma sibilatrix, [2 subspecies]
  • Capped Heron - Pilherodius pileatus
  • Agami Heron - Agami agami



Subfamily : Nycticoracinae (night-herons), with 7 species under 3 genera
  • Yellow-crowned Night Heron - Nyctanassa violacea, [5 subspecies]
  • Black-crowned Night-Heron - Nycticorax nycticorax, [2 subspecies]
  • Rufous Night-Heron - Nycticorax caledonicus, [5 subspecies]
  • White-backed Night-Heron - Nycticorax leuconotus
  • White-eared Night-Heron - Gorsachius magnificus
  • Japanese Night-Heron - Gorsachius goisagi
  • Malayan Night-Heron - Gorsachius melanolophus



Subfamily : Tigriornithinae (tiger-herons), with 5 species under 3 genera
  • Bare-throated Tiger-Heron - Tigrisoma mexicanum
  • Fasciated Tiger-Heron - Tigrisoma fasciatum, [3 subspecies]
  • Rufescent Tiger-Heron - Tigrisoma lineatum, [2 subspecies]
  • White-crested Tiger-Heron - Tigriornis leucolophus
  • New Guinea Tiger-Heron - Zonerodius heliosylus, also known as the Forest Bittern



Subfamily : Cochleariinae (boat-billed heron), containing a single monotypic species and genera
  • Boat-billed Heron - Cochlearius cochlearius, [5 subspecies]



Subfamily : Botaurinae (Bitterns), with 14 species under 3 genera
  • South American Bittern - Botaurus pinnatus, [2 subspecies] - also known as the Pinnated Bittern
  • North American Bittern - Botaurus lentiginosus
  • Eurasian Bittern - Botaurus stellaris, [2 subspecies]
  • Australasian Bittern - Botaurus poiciloptilus
  • Streaked Bittern - Ixobrychus involucris, also known as the Stripe-backed Bittern
  • Least Bittern - Ixobrychus exilis, [5 subspecies]
  • Little Bittern - Ixobrychus minutus, [5 subspecies]
  • Yellow Bittern – Ixobrychus sinensis
  • Schrenck’s Bittern - Ixobrychus eurhythmus, alternatively named Von Schrenck’s Bittern
  • Cinnamon Bittern - Ixobrychus cinnamomeus
  • Dwarf Bittern - Ixobrychus sturmii
  • Black Bittern - Ixobrychus flavicollis, [3 subspecies]
  • Black-backed Bittern - Ixobrychus dubious
  • Zigzag Heron - Zebrilus undulates, also known as the Zigzag Bittern

Related information : 'understanding bird orders and families' and 'understanding taxonomy listings'


Issue : 3 (Dec.16) - (originated Nov.15)