The herons are long-legged freshwater and coastal birds in the family Ardeidae, with 64 recognised species, some of which are referred to as egrets or bitterns rather than herons. Members of the genera Botaurus and Ixobrychus are referred to as bitterns, and, together with the zigzag heron, or zigzag bittern, in the monotypic genus Zebrilus, form a monophyletic group within the Ardeidae. Egrets are not a biologically distinct group from the herons, and tend to be named differently because they are mainly white or have decorative plumes in breeding plumage. Herons, by evolutionary adaptation, have long beaks.
The classification of the individual heron/egret species is fraught with difficulty, and no clear consensus exists about the correct placement of many species into either of the two major genera, Ardea and Egretta. Similarly, the relationships of the genera in the family are not completely resolved. However, one species formerly considered to constitute a separate monotypic family, the Cochlearidae or the boat-billed heron, is now regarded as a member of the Ardeidae.
Although herons resemble birds in some other families, such as the storks, ibises, spoonbills, and cranes, they differ from these in flying with their necks retracted, not outstretched. They are also one of the bird groups that have powder down. Some members of this group nest colonially in trees, while others, notably the bitterns, use reed beds.
Storks are large, long-legged, long-necked wading birds with long, stout bills. They belong to the family called Ciconiidae, and make up the order Ciconiiformes. Ciconiiformes previously included a number of other families, such as herons and ibises, but those families have been moved to other orders.
Storks dwell in many regions and tend to live in drier habitats than the closely related herons, spoonbills and ibises; they also lack the powder down that those groups use to clean off fish slime. Bill-clattering is an important mode of communication at the nest. Many species are migratory. Most storks eat frogs, fish, insects, earthworms, small birds and small mammals. There are nineteen living species of storks in six genera.
Various terms are used to refer to groups of storks, two frequently used ones being a muster of storks and a phalanx of storks.
Storks tend to use soaring, gliding flight, which conserves energy. Soaring requires thermal air currents. Ottomar Anschütz’s famous 1884 album of photographs of storks inspired the design of Otto Lilienthal’s experimental gliders of the late nineteenth century. Storks are heavy, with wide wingspans: the marabou stork, with a wingspan of 3.2 m (10 ft) and weight up to 8 kg (18 lb), joins the Andean condor in having the widest wingspan of all living land birds.
Their nests are often very large and may be used for many years. Some nests have been known to grow to over two metres (six feet) in diameter and about three metres (ten feet) in depth. Storks were once thought to be monogamous, but this is only partially true. They may change mates after migrations, and may migrate without a mate.
Storks’ size, serial monogamy, and faithfulness to an established nesting site contribute to their prominence in mythology and culture.
A long-legged, long-necked wading bird of the family Ardeidae.
A large wading bird with long legs and a long beak of the family Ciconiidae.
The mythical bringer of babies to families, or good news.
The seventeenth Lenormand card.
a large fish-eating wading bird with long legs, a long S-shaped neck, and a long pointed bill.