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A heron is a large wading bird in the family Ardeidae, which includes egrets and bitterns as well. Wetlands all over the world host herons, which have distinctive long legs and necks adapted to their unique natural habitat, and several species are threatened or endangered as a result of loss of habitat. Out of concern for the wetlands habitat, many nations are undertaking conservation programs, which will greatly assist herons along with many other animal and plant species. Herons are also related to storks, and the two families of birds are sometimes confused by people without birding experience.
The classic heron has a long neck and legs, along with a long, pointed bill. Their plumage can vary from pure white to smoky gray to blue, depending on the species, and most herons have a distinctive crest on their heads as well. Egrets look similar, but develop long decorative plumage during breeding season which led to near extinction of several species, as humans were fond of the decorative plumage for making hats and other decorative items. The bittern looks markedly different, being a much stouter bird with a short, thick neck and stocky legs.
The diet of a heron consists of whatever it can find in its environment. This usually includes fish, amphibians like frogs and salamanders, and aquatic insects. Some herons also eat small plants. The birds use their long bills to stir up the mud at the bottom of a wetland looking for food, filtering out nutritious edibles. They nest in stick platforms, which are sometimes built low to the water and sometimes located high in trees. Many naturalists have observed that herons seem to build rather precarious nests, but they usually manage to raise a clutch of chicks every year from a nest which the parents take turns incubating.
The largest heron in the world is the Goliath Heron, native to Africa. It can grow to over four feet (1.2 meters) in height, and has handsome gray and brown plumage. Like other herons, the Goliath Heron folds its neck during flight, but it does not trail its long legs behind it. Another heron species, the Great Blue Heron, is familiar to many birdwatchers in the Northern Hemisphere, especially the United States, and will grow to between 38-53 inches (97-137 centimeters), and it has a distinct blueish tinge. A variety of the Great Blue, the Great White, has pure white plumage, and it is found primarily in the Southern United States.