Skip to content

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 World Assessment

Habitats Wetland Thickets
Presence In Israel Winter Visitor, Migrant, Resident
Nesting In Israel Past Breeder
Migration Types Short Range / Partial
Zoography Zones Mediterranean
Landscape Formations Plains & Valleys, Swamps, Wetland Thickets, Wetlands, Freshwater Bodies
Vegetation Formations Wetland Thickets
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 in the past and present, and the changes in occupancy and nesting density during the comparison period. For further reading

Relative Abundance 2010-2020

Breeding density values as calculated from observation records and expert opinions.

Relative Abundance 1980-1990

Breeding density values are based mainly on the book Birds of Israel (Shirihai 1996).

Occupancy difference 1990-2020

A map that expresses differences in the breeding distribution between the evaluation periods (1980-1990 versus 2010-2020). Negative value - species previously present but is currently absent, positive value - species has not been recorded previously and is currently present, zero - no change in occupancy.

Relative abundance difference 1990-2020

A map that reflects the changes in the relative abundance of the species between the evaluation periods (1980-1990 versus 2010-2020). Negative values - decline in abundance, positive values - increase in abundance, zero - no change in abundance.

Red number

IUCN category

() districts
% of protected sites

Other Species

Ardea purpurea
Nycticorax nycticorax
Egretta garzetta
Butorides striata