The Little Blue Heron is a slender, medium size wading bird that stands about two feet tall. Its body and wings are slate blue. It has a dull purple head and neck. Its long bill is grayish-blue at the base and black at the tip. The Little Blue has light green legs and yellow eyes. This bird is much more active than the larger Great Blue Heron. The Little Blue does not stand and wait for its food. It paces busily in shallow water searching for insects, fish and crabs which it nimbly snatches with its pointed bill.
An adult Little Blue Heron with typical
The Little Blue Heron is usually seen alone, but it is sometimes found in the company of other birds of the heron family. When it is young, it has white plumage. This helps it blend in with Ibises, Snowy Egrets and Great Egrets. As it gets older, it becomes more of a loner. You will often find it a solitary figure, except during breeding season when it can be found in pairs or even in larger groups of a dozen or more.
During breeding season, the adult's appearance becomes more dramatic as you can see in the photo below. The purple often becomes more vivid, and the bill turns bright blue at the base. The legs get darker, changing from light green to nearly black. A slender purple pony tail plume grows from the back of the head. Long bluish plumes drape from the bird's back.
Little Blue Heron with breeding plumage
Starts out white
The Little Blue Heron isn't blue when it is young. It is white. It takes about a year for the bird to gradually change from white to blue. During this mottled "calico" phase, the bird looks awkward and blotchy. (See the two photos below.) If you are lucky enough to see the same young bird month after month, you can observe the slow process.
Little Blue Heron - The young bird is white (above)
The Little Blue Heron has a mottled phase as it
gradually turns blue
The adult Little Blue Heron is often confused with the Tri-colored Heron. They look similar from the back. But from the front you'll see that the Tri-colored Heron has a white belly. It also has red eyes and a narrow white stripe down the front of the neck. If you are not sure which you are observing and you see a solid white belly on the bird, it is the Tri-colored Heron, not the Little Blue.
The young Little Blue Heron is often mistaken for the Snowy Egret. They are so similar in size and color that it's easy to mix up the two. But when the immature Little Blue is in its white phase, it looks dull compared to the Snowy. The Snowy Egret is a brighter white, and it has a black bill with bright yellow lores. The lores are the areas between a bird's eyes and bill. The greatest difference between the two is that the Snowy Egret has black legs and yellow feet. The immature Little Blue has pale green legs and feet.
The photos on this page were taken in Clearwater, Palm Harbor
and Tarpon Springs, Florida.