Herons, Egrets, and Allies

Ardeidae is the name of a family of birds that includes all the world’s herons, egrets, and bitterns, about 65 species of birds in all. The Threshkiornithidae family, the ibises and spoonbills, includes about 33 species of good-sized wading birds that are closely related to the heron family, therefore "allies". The 98 species in these families are generally seen near wetlands and marshes, and share some characteristics like long legs, necks and bills, and colonial nesting behaviors. About 16 species of the 98 are seen in the U.S. Along with Pelecanidae, the pelican family, the three families together make up the order Pelecaniformes. You may not have expected to find the herons alongside the pelicans, but there you'll find them in the newest bird books, reflecting generally accepted thinking regarding the evolutionary relationships of these families of birds.

The heronry of nesting Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets along Bolinas Lagoon was the focal point for the creation of Audubon Canyon Ranch in 1961. Here at the Martin Griffin Preserve visitors can visit the Henderson Overlook for a spectacular look at the Great Egrets as they progress from courtship to successful fledging of chicks during the spring and early summer. Long-term observations there by our science staff and volunteers have produced valuable insights into the nesting behavior of these species. Bolinas Lagoon also provides a good viewing area for Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, and Black-crowned Night-Herons.

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