This section is from the book "The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation", by George Abbey. Also available from Amazon: The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation.
The Heron (Ardea cinerea), included in the family Ardeidae (Herons) and sub-family Ardeinae, is about 3 ft. 2 in. in length, the body being exceedingly small, weighing scarcely more than 3½ lbs. It is distinguished by having a long bill cleft beneath the eyes, a compressed body, long slender legs, and the wings moderate. The tail is short, rounded and consists of twelve feathers. The plumage, of an ashen colour, is not attractive, but the plumes of the heron were formerly considered as ornaments only to be worn by the noble, and in former times the heron was carefully preserved on account of the excellent sport which it afforded in hawking. The flesh of the young heron was formerly a dish in high repute. Herons are dull birds and are often seen either perched on trees near the water, or wading in search of food. They are very expert fishers, and take their prey either by wading after it where the water is shallow, or by diving from the air when the object of their pursuit appears near the surface of the water. In times of frost and scarcity herons can exist for a long time with a very scanty supply of food, but in favourable weather they gorge themselves with insatiable voracity.
They digest an enormous load of food in a short time, and again return to their feeding with new vigour and appetite. It has been asserted that a single heron will destroy 15,000 carp in half a year. Though the heron is commonly seen solitary away from the nesting-place, called heronry, the birds pair and build in high trees, sometimes sociably after the manner of rooks. The nest is a flat mass of sticks, and contains five bluish-green eggs. The young differ from the adult in not obtaining their full plumage until the third year. Besides fish, the heron feeds upon lizards, frogs, snakes, toads, rats, mice, water-voles, beetles and other insects.