It is a joy to witness herons taking flight. As the birds take off, they bend their legs as if crouching, then jump up into the air. As they do so, they open their large wings and begin flapping until they reach their flight level. The image on the right shows a Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) taking flight.
Flight is slow, not agile, but strong. Wings are flapped to maintain altitude. In flight, they take a characteristic silhouette. The wings are fully outstretched, legs and feet extended straight back, and the neck is completely retracted so that it rests fully on the bird’s back.
The two images of Little Heron (Butorides striatus) (below left) and Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea) (below right) illustrate this beautifully.
Such flights can carry the birds long distances when migrating or during their daily flights to and from feeding, breeding or roosting sites.
As the birds prepare to land, they begin to glide, gradually losing altitude. Just before landing they extend their necks, drop their legs, adopt a more vertical body alignment and then begin to flap. This acts as a brake against their forward movement, to allow them to gently land.
Generally, larger species beat their wings at a slower rate than smaller species.
Herons are very capable of landing on water and taking off again immediately.
Images of Grey Heron by Heng Fook Hai, Little and Purple Herons by Allan Teo.