Portrait of the heron - tips for a successful defense in the garden kingdom

Portrait of the heron - tips for a successful defense in the garden kingdom

the essentials in brief

  • The best-known heron is the gray heron with a size of 95-98 cm and gray-white plumage, closely followed by the equally large great egret with white feathers.
  • The gray herons, which are 55-65 cm smaller, are on the rise as herons with white plumage and night herons with mostly black plumage.
  • Scare off herons is achieved with a water jet, reflector, ultrasound, pond net, dummy and scarecrow.

What does a heron look like? - Characteristics


The well-known gray heron has had competition in Germany. In recent years, herons in white or black are no longer uncommon. As a result, there are several answers to the question of appearance. The following 4 species from the diverse family of the herons can often be admired in our regions:

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Gray heron / gray heronGreat EgretNight heronLittle Egret
size90-98 cm85-100 cm58-65 cm55-65 cm
Weight1-2 kg1-1.5 kg0.7-1 kg0.3-0.7 kg
feather dressgray-white to ash-grayWhiteblack-white-grayWhite
beakyellowish tweezers beakyellowish, dagger-likeblack, thickblack, dagger-shaped
special feature3 long black feathersemerald green dark circlesvery long neck feathersyellow feet
botanical nameArdea cinereaArdea albaNycticorax nycticoraxEgretta garzetta

The winged beauties of this overview are presented in more detail below, including meaningful pictures of herons.

The heron: four German species

Heron - short portrait

The gray heron is a species of heron that is widespread in Central Europe. Due to its particular fondness for fish, it is mostly referred to as the heron. With a wingspan of up to 195 centimeters and an S-shaped curved neck, the majestic bird in the sky is hard to miss. In a standing resting position, the natural beauty presents itself with a long, slender, gray-white neck. The forehead and skull are white, characterized by black eye stripes and three black feathers. Its ash-gray back feathers are adorned with white ribbons. The heron strides elegantly on long, thin, gray-black legs through a life of up to 25 years.

Great Egret - short portrait

Great egrets live up to their name with a bright white plumage from head to legs. For this reason, the species is often referred to as the white heron. The only splashes of color in the picturesque appearance are yellow eyes and a yellow beak with a dark tip. During the breeding season, a great egret wears emerald green circles under the eyes and the dagger-shaped beak turns black. The long, lanky legs are black with black toes. For some years now, the white heron has also been on the rise in Germany, where it likes to mingle with the gray heron colonies.

Night Heron - Short Portrait

The night heron owes its name to its tendency to search for food at night. During the breeding season or when food is scarce, the small herons can also be observed during the day. The black hood, black back and black shoulders have led the vernacular to use the middle name black heron. Ash gray wings, a light gray belly and a white face do not change anything. The night heron strides around on pale-yellow-green legs and sports its distinctive decorative feathers on the neck.

Little Egret - Short Portrait


The little egret is increasingly enjoying German shallow water regions and wetlands. For this reason, the beautiful migratory bird in a white silk feather robe rounds off our list of common species. Only the legs and beak are black. When a male little egret woos his lady of the heart, his dark circles shine bright purple in the zeal of courtship. Due to its silky white feathers, the little egret is often confused with the great egret and also referred to as the white heron.


Are you curious what the heron singing sounds like? Then listen to the hit parade of gray herons, great egrets and night herons at deutsche-vogelstimmen.de or Wikipedia.

How does the heron hunt?

For herons, social life in the colony ends where the foraging for food begins. If the hunt for prey is on the program, gray herons and their white and black conspecifics become loners. Hunting grounds are bodies of water with shallow water zones that do not freeze over. For this purpose, gray herons target reed belts, lake shores, floodplains and swamps. Since pesticides and liquid manure have been ruining the water quality, herons can be found at garden ponds because healthy fish can still be found here. The following sequence is typical for hunting behavior:

  1. Landing in the riparian zone
  2. walking slowly into the shallow water
  3. calm wading through shallow water with bowed head and attentive gaze
  4. alternatively, remaining motionless in shallow water until the prey swims up
  5. Lightning fast rush of the beak to catch a fish

Herons hunt according to the motto: There is strength in calm. The patient birds do not mind wading or standing for hours. Of course, the thread of patience does not last forever. If no fish can be seen at all, gray herons change their strategy. Then they run through the water with flapping wings, scare away the fish and strike as fast as an arrow. When herons hunt depends on the bird species. Gray herons and white herons fish during the day. Night herons stick to their names and hunt at dusk.


Gray herons outsmart the great egret

At the beginning of the settlement of white herons in our regions, gray herons went furiously against their food competitors and tried to chase them away. After a while, the clever birds came up with better ideas and developed a cunning strategy. Gray herons leave the time-consuming, laborious foraging for great egrets. For this purpose, a gray heron stays on the heels of its white conspecific. If a white heron has made a find, the gray heron uses the surprise effect and flies at the unsuspecting great egret from behind. He drops the prey in shock, right at the feet of the gray bandit. Exciting pictures of this tricky hunt variant can be admired on the website of the well-known nature conservationist and animal photographer Gerhard Brodowski.

When does the heron come?

Depending on its location, the heron is a migratory bird, a partial migrant or a resident bird. As a short-distance migrant, the bird does not cover more than 2000 kilometers. Gray herons prefer to live in colonies high up in the treetops and have monogamous partnerships that last a lifetime. For this reason, herons arrive in large schools. Under normal weather conditions, your stay will follow this schedule:

  • Arrival : late February / early March (after the last hard frost period)
  • Courtship and nest building : early to mid-March
  • Rearing : clutch with 4-5 eggs, incubation period 25-26 days, nestling excursion in mid / end of June
  • Departure for winter quarters : September

In temperate regions of Germany, herons have become a familiar sight in winter. Ever since the progressive global warming began to take effect in the form of mild winters without freezing frost and thick blankets of snow, herons hibernate in the immediate vicinity of their breeding grounds.

Scare off herons - how does it work


Have you ever caught a heron red-handed by the garden pond? His reaction provides important information on how to successfully chase the fish predator away. For a split second, the surprised intruder freezes into a feathered pillar of salt, fixes you with his attentive eyes, recognizes an overpowering enemy and tries to escape. To effectively deter a heron, the method should stand up to its lightning-fast examination. Defense strategies that suggest to the fish thief that a foray into the pond is pointless promise good results. The following table provides an overview of how you can keep herons away from the pond:

Gray heron frightHeron defense
Water jetPond net

An individually stretched fishing line against herons is frowned upon among nature lovers. The birds do not recognize the tripwire or recognize it much too late. Severe injuries to the limp legs are the fatal result. The same applies to thin nylon cord that criss-crosses the pond. One attempt to land often costs the gray heron its life.

Gray heron scare - tips for application

An effective heron fright attacks the weak nerves, irritates perception or triggers the flight instinct with acoustic stimuli. Responsible hobby gardeners select from all conceivable methods those remedies that do not harm the hungry fish thieves. The selection results in the following three procedures, the professional application of which promises the best results:

Water jet with motion detector

The heron fright with water jet has a motion detector that reacts to larger animals. A load of cool water shoots out of a nozzle in the direction of the bird, which then gets a good deal of shock in the limbs and he searches the distance. The animal-friendly method is well suited for a garden with a water connection. Batteries or an integrated solar module provide the necessary energy supply. A positive side effect: the garden guard with the spray nozzle also fends off four-legged intruders, such as martens or cats.



Herons have keen eyes, which they use to spot potential prey from the air. A reflective object takes advantage of this and uses good eyesight against the winged poachers. Reflective surfaces reflect the sunlight, which confuses the peeking heron eyes. When alarmed, the predatory poultry turns in the air or flies away again immediately after landing. The implementation allows different variations that fit decoratively into the pond design:

  • Stainless steel balls
  • Pyramid made of mirrors
  • floating pond decoration covered with mirror foil

Permanent movement plays a key role in ensuring that pyramids or stainless steel balls help against herons. The object must be placed on the water surface.


An acoustic heron fright emits sound waves that humans cannot perceive. In heron ears, on the other hand, there is a loud roar with a lasting scaring effect. The ultrasound method is known to be effective in driving away pesky pigeons and cheeky sparrows. A disadvantage is that it does not take long for the birds to expose the sound waves as harmless.

Heron defense - this is how it works

In order for a heron repeller to fulfill its purpose, it should withstand the scrutiny of trained heron eyes and be convincing. As the table above shows, there are three powerful methods to choose from, which do not harm the thief. The following instructions explain the correct use:

Pond net

The pond net against herons is a convincing and effective protection. It prevents the fish robber from landing in the water in order to set off on the prey. Furthermore, the stretched pond net throws the gray heron through the bill if it wants to catch a fish on approach from the air. In contrast to individually stretched cords, the bird recognizes the defense structure from a distance and turns away in good time. The following aspects are important for an optimal effect:

  • span the entire pond area with the net and not just the shallow water zone
  • use a close-meshed net with mesh sizes of 12 × 12 mm to 15 × 15 mm
  • Pay attention to tear-proof, UV-resistant material such as polyethylene

A pond net scores with other advantages. Fall leaves are caught before they contaminate the pond. In the family garden, the net makes an important contribution to safety and prevents curious children from sinking if they fall into the water.


In the portrait you can read that a heron prefers to prey as a loner. If a conspecific already claims the pond as a hunting ground, gray herons usually avoid a confrontation and fly on. A dummy makes use of this fact, suggesting the presence of a heron. So that the clever birds fall for the plagiarism, it depends on this application:

  • lifelike dummy with a size of around 100 cm and authentic body shape as well as plumage drawing
  • Change position every few days
  • ideally combine with a stainless steel ball or pond net on the water

We recommend a heron dummy with a spike so that the obligatory change of location can be carried out without much effort.



Human figures at the garden pond let the herons ring the alarm bells, so that they prefer to turn around. Traditionally, the scarecrow is useful to keep gray herons and other poultry away from the garden and pond. Bargain hunters among pond owners appreciate that you can make the classic bird repeller yourself. The following tips may inspire you for a creative self-made scarecrow brand:

  • Frame: nail 2 wooden slats (2 m and 1 m long) together in a cross shape
  • Shape head and hands out of straw and colorful, weatherproof ribbons and fix with string
  • Pull burlap over your head with 2 large buttons as eyes
  • Dressing the scarecrow with old clothes

Stuff the clothes with straw for fullness. A frayed straw hat on the head gives the scarecrow a horticultural charm. Stylish accessories complete the decorative appearance, such as old glasses, ties or bow ties as well as some dried flowers. The more colorful ribbons flutter on the scarecrow, the more terrifying the effect on brazen gray herons on approach. By repositioning the figure regularly, you prevent the habituation effect.


From fish thief to beneficial organism

The destruction of its habitats, the drainage of wetlands and rigorous pond protection have prompted the heron to expand its diet. Fish, frogs and aquatic insects are no longer its only food. The prey scheme also includes mice, rats, snakes, larvae and other small animals. On the extensive green areas on the Lower Rhine, numerous herons can be seen hunting for voles. They cleverly seek proximity to wild geese, which eat the grass briefly and optimize the hunting conditions for small mammals for gray and great egrets. Natural gardeners with a pest problem, such as water voles or rats in the garden, therefore welcome herons as beneficial insects instead of fighting them.

What enemies does a heron have?

The heron faces a whole armada of enemies. This list is headed by people with road and air traffic, wind turbines and the ruthless destruction of their habitats. Numerous predators follow, aiming for eggs in the nest, chicks or weakened gray herons. These primarily include cats, raccoons, martens, weasels and squirrels. Ever since herons evolved from ground-breeding to tree-breeding, they have avoided foxes and wild boars as enemies.


The heron power animal impressively demonstrates the advantages of level-headed serenity. The majestic bird patiently, with a clear view and completely at rest on the lookout for its food. Instead of demonizing the gray heron as a fish thief, we should take its powerful calm as an example in everyday stress.

Are herons protected?


As European bird species, herons are particularly protected species according to Section 7 of the Federal Nature Conservation Act. Disturbing, catching or even killing the birds in their habitat is prohibited under penalty. In the 1970s, gray herons were seriously threatened with extinction in Germany. Only strict protection regulations have saved the beautiful birds with impressive success. Today the gray heron is one of the most widespread heron species in Germany.

Conservationists complain that regardless of this, the herons are still considered game within the meaning of the Federal Hunting Act. Fortunately, a hunting season is only set in Bavaria. From mid-September to the end of October, the birds are released for shooting within a 200-meter radius around man-made fish ponds. In all other federal states, herons are spared all year round. An individual permit from the Lower Hunting Authority is required for shooting. A special permit is also mandatory if you want to build a heron trap to catch the bird and release it away from the garden pond.

frequently asked Questions

What does a heron eat?

His name refers to his favorite food, fish. Frogs, aquatic insects, newts and small snakes provide variety on the menu. If the waters are frozen or polluted with pesticides and liquid manure, herons seek out spacious green areas. Here they keep an eye out for field mice and insects. Since gray herons discovered human living areas with garden ponds as hunting grounds, the range of prey has expanded to include rats, voles and small invertebrates.

Can herons swim?


The heron is a talented hide hunter. In slow motion, he steps into the water or through the wet meadow with his head bowed. If it has spotted a prey, it strikes with its beak at lightning speed. Only in exceptional cases can a heron land on the water to swim for one to three seconds, prey on a fatty fish and get back into the air. Gray herons are unable to swim over a long period of time.

What helps against herons?

Herons are terrifying creatures. To protect the pond, a motion detector with a water jet has proven itself in practice. Reflective objects that reflect sunlight and irritate peeking bird eyes are recommended. Floating mirror pyramids or stainless steel balls are good protection against herons. For a short time, ultrasound devices act as heron fright, but lose their effectiveness after a while. As an effective defense in the garden kingdom, stretch a net over the water surface to protect the fish stock.

Do herons hunt at night?

The numerically most common herons hunt in daylight. These include gray herons, great egrets and little egrets. This does not mean that fish, mice and toads can feel safe in the dark. When gray and white herons sleep, a black heron goes on the prey with the aptly named night heron.

What's the best way to drive herons out of the garden realm?

From the category of heron fright, the pond owners concerned attest the water jet with motion detector to be the most effective. Compared to other methods, there is no risk of habituation. The pond net is recommended from the heron defense category because it effectively prevents fish from being caught in the air and on the ground.

Does a low-voltage fence make sense to ward off herons in the pond?

The use of electric traps against herons is fraught with numerous negative side effects. First and foremost, experimenting with electricity is a risky undertaking for amateur gardeners, even if it is low power. If the pond is surrounded by a low-voltage fence, the paradisiacal water world becomes a painful experience for children, pets and inattentive adults when it comes into contact with the wires. Last but not least, the defense of herons with an electric fence can hardly be reconciled with an ecologically pure conscience and the Federal Species Protection Act.

What can you do against a night heron?

Because night herons search for food in the dark, various defense methods that are effective against diurnal gray herons fail. So that a black heron avoids the garden pond at night, we recommend a variant of the water jet. A powerful spotlight with a motion detector chases away the nocturnal intruder with immediate effect. Furthermore, a net stretched over the water surface serves as pond protection during the day and at night.


Did you know that there is an unmistakable difference between crane and heron? When the giant birds soar through the air, please keep your eyes on your neck. A crane flies with its neck stretched out. A heron, on the other hand, sails through the air with an S-shaped neck.