Ardea (bird)

Ardea is a genus of herons. The genus name comes from Latin ardea "heron". These herons are generally large in size, typically 80–100 cm or more in length.

Temporal range: Middle Miocene to present
Great blue heron in GWC (16570).jpg
Great blue heron (A. herodias)
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Pelecaniformes
Family: Ardeidae
Subfamily: Ardeinae
Genus: Ardea
Linnaeus, 1758
Type species
Ardea cinerea (grey heron)
Linnaeus, 1758

12, see text


Megalornis Gray, 1841

The great egret (Ardea alba, left) resembles the other Ardea in habitus, and the little egret (Egretta garzetta, right) only in color.

These large herons are associated with wetlands where they prey on fish, frogs, and other aquatic species.

Most members of this almost worldwide group breed colonially in trees, building large stick nests. Northern species such as great blue, grey, and purple herons may migrate south in winter, although the first two do so only from areas where the waters freeze.

These are powerful birds with large spear-like bills, long necks and long legs, which hunt by waiting motionless or stalking their prey in shallow water before seizing it with a sudden lunge. They have a slow steady flight, with the neck retracted as is characteristic of herons and bitterns; this distinguishes them from storks, cranes, flamingos, and spoonbills, which extend their necks.


The genus Ardea was introduced in 1758 by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus in 1758 in the tenth edition of his Systema Naturae.[1] The genus name is the Latin word meaning "heron".[2] The type species was designated as the grey heron (Ardea cinerea) by George Robert Gray in 1840.[3]

Some members of Ardea are clearly very closely related, such as the grey, great blue, and cocoi herons, which form a superspecies. However, the great egret, in particular, has been placed in other genera by various authors as Egretta alba and Casmerodius albus. Nevertheless, this species closely resembles the large Ardea herons in everything but color, whereas it shows fewer similarities to the smaller white egrets.


The genus contains twelve species:[4]

Image Scientific name Common Name Distribution
  Ardea cinerea Grey heron Norway and Sweden, Northern Europe and Asia eastwards as far as the Ural Mountains, northern Spain, France, central Italy, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Iraq, Iran, India, and Myanmar (Burma). Africa south of the Sahara Desert, the Canary Islands, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and many of the Mediterranean Islands
  Ardea herodias Great blue heron North America, as far north as Alaska and the southern Canadian provinces in the summer. In winter, the range extends south through Florida, Mexico, and the Caribbean to South America
  Ardea cocoi Cocoi heron South America
  Ardea pacifica White-necked heron or Pacific heron Australian continent
  Ardea melanocephala Black-headed heron sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar.
  Ardea humbloti Humblot's heron Madagascar
  Ardea insignis White-bellied heron eastern Himalayas of India and Myanmar.
  Ardea sumatrana Great-billed heron Southern Asia and Australasia including Australia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
  Ardea goliath Goliath heron sub-Saharan Africa
  Ardea purpurea Purple heron Africa, central and southern Europe, and southern and eastern Asia
  Ardea alba Great egret or great white egret Asia, Africa, the Americas, and southern Europe.
  Ardea intermedia Intermediate egret Southeast Asia and Australia.

A number of Ardea species are only known from subfossil or fossil bones. Their placement in Ardea versus Egretta may be provisional:

  • Bennu heron, Ardea bennuides (prehistoric)
  • Ardea sp. (Middle Miocene of Observation Quarry, US) (fossil)
  • Ardea sp. (Late Miocene of Love Bone Bed, US) (fossil)
  • Ardea polkensis (Early Pliocene of Bone Valley, US) (fossil)
  • Ardea sp. (Early Pleistocene of Macasphalt Shell Pit, US) (fossil)
  • Ardea howardae (fossil)

The remains described as Ardea perplexa are nowadays usually believed to be from an ibis of the genus Geronticus or closely related genera. "Ardea formosa" (a nomen nudum) is now Proardeola, "Ardea" brunhuberi and "A." similis refer to a misidentified cormorant (Phalacrocorax intermedius) and partridge (Miogallus altus), respectively. "Ardea" lignitum – a fossil of quite recent age as it seems – is some large owl, perhaps even a Eurasian eagle-owl (Bubo bubo).


  1. ^ Linnaeus, Carl (1758). Systema Naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis (in Latin). Vol. 1 (10th ed.). Holmiae (Stockholm): Laurentii Salvii. p. 141.
  2. ^ Jobling, James A. (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 54. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  3. ^ Gray, George Robert (1840). A List of the Genera of Birds : with an Indication of the Typical Species of Each Genus. London: R. and J.E. Taylor. p. 66.
  4. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David; Rasmussen, Pamela, eds. (July 2021). "Ibis, spoonbills, herons, Hamerkop, Shoebill, pelicans". IOC World Bird List Version 11.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 10 August 2021.