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Ardea cinerea

warning Regionally Extinct

The Grey Heron became extinct as a breeder in Israel during the 1960s and 1970s. Several tens of pairs nested in the Hula Valley, and possibly at other sites as well during 1951-1954, in mixed colonies with Purple Herons (Zahavi 1957 in Shirihai 1996). Following the drainage of the Hula Marshes the number of breeding birds decreased dramatically, but a number of pairs (7 at the most) nested in Israel until 1964 (Paz 1986, Shirihai 1996). The last breeding attempt in Israel was observed in the Ramat Gan Safari Park in spring 1976 (Ehud Dovrat, pers. comm.). The main factors for its extinction were probably the drainage and destruction of wetlands in northern Israel and secondary poisoning by agricultural pesticides. Because the species is still a common passage migrant and winter visitor, and probably nests not far from Israel’s northern border (as suggested by the appearance of juvenile birds in the Hula Valley every summer) it might return to nest here naturally. This process can be accelerated if natural water bodies surrounded by extensive riparian vegetation, including trees, will be developed in northern Israel.
RE Current Regional Assessment | RE Previous Regional Assessment | LC Global Assessment

Habitats Wetland Thickets
Presence In Israel Winter Visitor, Migrant, Resident
Breeding In Israel Bred in the past
Migration Types Short Range / Partial
Zoographical Zones Mediterranean
Landscape Types Plains & Valleys, Wetlands, Fresh Water, Marsh, Wetland Thickets
Vegetation Types Marsh and Riparian
Vegetation Densities Medium, High
Nest Locations Tree
Diet Types Fish
Foraging Grounds Water
Body Sizes Large (over 1000g)
Threat Factors Pesticide Poisoning, Wetland Drainage & Pollution

The Grey Heron is the largest heron in our region. Like its name, its plumage is a relatively uniform grey, with darker upperparts and paler underparts and neck. Dark grey flight feathers contrast with paler coverts. Head is pale grey, with a prominent black supercilium that extends like a plume towards the nape. Its strong, strait, sharp bill and legs are yellowish-grey. Flight is heavy, with arched wings and a retracted neck. It usually uses flapping flight, but can also soar and glide for short periods, and even soar in thermals.

The Grey Heron is a common passage migrant and winter visitor in water bodies throughout Israel. A few birds, mostly immatures, remain over the summer, mainly in the Northern Valleys.

The Grey Heron is usually seen at the edges of water bodies as it stands on exposed banks or in water up to 50 cm deep, occasionally in meadows or plowed fields as well.

The Grey Heron has low priority for active reintroduction management for the following reasons:
The former breeding population in Israel was small and isolated.
The global population is estimated to be stable and in good condition.
There is a reasonable probability that the species will return to nest in Israel naturally.
The species might cause potential conflicts with fish farmers in Israel, as well as possible competition with the Purple Heron whose global population and range are far smaller than those of the Grey Heron.

The Grey Heron nested in Papyrus thickets in the Hula marshes, in mixed colonies with Purple Herons. In other parts of the world, it usually nests on tall trees. It feeds mainly on fish that it catches in the water with the help of its long neck and sharp bill, but also feeds on reptiles, small mammals and amphibians.

  • פז, ע. 1986. עופות. מתוך אלון, ע. (עורך), החי והצומח של ארץ ישראל. כרך 6. הוצאת משרד הביטחון, ישראל.

Distribution maps

The maps presented here provide visual information on the distribution of species in Israel from the past and present, and the changes in occupancy and breeding density during the comparison period. For further reading

Relative Abundance 2010-2020

Breeding density values in the current decade as determined from experts' opinion and observations from databases.

Relative Abundance 2010-2020 by density
Data Missing Sporadic Limited Sites Low Density High Density
8 12 12 21 19

Relative Abundance 1980-1990

Density values based primarily on the book The Birds of Israel (Shirihai 1996).

Relative Abundance 1980-1990 by density
Data Missing Sporadic Limited Sites Low Density High Density
5 14 14 17 22

Occupancy 1990-2020

The map shows differences in the species breeding distribution between the 1980's breeding map and the current weighted breeding evaluation. Negative value - species previously bred in the grid and is not presently breeding; positive value - species has not previously bred in the grid and is currently breeding.

Occupancy 1990-2020
Data Missing No Change Occupancy Increase Occupancy Decrease
6 35 1 9

Change in Relative Abundance 1990-2020

The map shows the changes in the relative abundance of a species in each of the distribution grids between the breeding map of the 1980s and the weighted current breeding evaluation. Negative values - decline in abundance; positive values - increase in abundance; zero - no change in abundance.

Change in Relative Abundance 1990-2020
80 to 100 50 20 to 30 No Change 30- to 20- 50- 100- to 80- Data Missing
0 4 2 22 12 14 11 16

Red number
IUCN category
Threat Definition according to the red book
() districts
% of protected sites

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