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Herony or rookery? - A short flocking explanation on a pointless designation

This designation probably means less to you than it does to us. And it really does not mean much to us. But please read this article? We promise to keep it really flocking short.

A Great Egret flaps its wings above a rookery.
Heronry or rookery? You decide. Or don't.

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If you have been around birders for very long, you have probably heard a silly disagreement over the use of certain terminology when labeling certain behaviors, parts, etc. This is another case of people spending too much time talking and not enough time watching birds!

What is a heronry?

A heronry is defined as a nesting colony that is comprised solely of nesting herons. If an ibis visits but does not nest, it is still a heronry. However, if an egret nests in the colony, is it still a heronry? This is where the confusion rains down upon us poor bird lovers that just want to spend more time looking at birds than arguing semantics. Or linguistics. Or syntax. (See what I did there? High brow joke. Not our typical style.)

First, we must define what classifies as a heron. Is it a bird with 'heron' in the name? Is it a bird found within the family Ardeidae? Is it only birds within the genus Ardea? If we want to keep this simple, it is probably safest to only classify birds that use heron within the common English name. This may be okay for the lovers of language, but it will probably ruffle the feathers of taxonomists. Why? Herons and egrets are scattered among numerous genera (genera is the plural of genus). For example, taxonomically speaking, the Great Blue Heron is closer in relation to the Great Egret than it is to the Green Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, or Tricolored Heron. In fact, the Tricolored Heron is technically an 'egret.' How? It is in the genus Egretta. Holy flock. Does your brain hurt?


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A Great Blue Heron peers above its nest on a heronry.
A Great Blue Heron peaks above its nest in a heronry. Or is it...?

If we want to satisfy taxonomists, any nesting colony that consists of ONLY nesting members of Ardeidae may satisfy the requirements to be classified as a heronry. However, if want to satisfy writers, editors, pompous peacocks, and languishers of language, then we should only classify a nesting colony as a heronry IF the birds using the site have 'heron' in their common English name.

Yikes. I guess, know your friends? Or find better ones if they wish to argue this. I will go birding with you.


Take safe and ethical heronry/rookery photos!

Zach with Sony RX10 IV

What is a rookery?

A rookery is defined as a nesting or birthing group of a variety of gregarious (group-loving) animals. What would classify as a rookery? Any congregation of nesting birds. Yes, a heronry is a rookery, but a rookery is not a heronry unless it is solely made up of 'herons.' See above for what defines a heron.

What birds might be found in a rookery?

There could really be any number of gregarious birds nesting together that constitute the rookery label. However, the most common birds in a rookery typically are:

  • Herons

  • Egrets

  • Ibises

  • Gulls

  • Terns

  • Pelicans

  • Storks

  • Cormorants

  • Penguins

  • Seabirds

  • and more!

An African Penguin preens its chick in a rookery.
An African Penguin preens its chick in a rookery.

Use an affordable scope to view distant rookeries!

Celestron Regal M2 ED Scope

Heronry vs Rookery

What is the difference between a heronry and a rookery? The composition of both the words and the birds that make up the nesting colonies. If a nesting colony is only filled with 'herons,' it is a heronry! If the loud, smelly spectacle has multiple species pooping everywhere, it is a rookery! Simple as a rookery. Wait...

Ya know what? They are all nesting colonies. Move along.



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1 Comment

Jb-kb Wolfwood
Jb-kb Wolfwood
Jul 24, 2023

THANK YOU!!! I have, finally, found my birding people!!!

We have just discovered the 1st GREAT BLUE nest (with 3 babies, even) on our beaver pond!! Does 1 nest make a Heronry/Rookery?? (of course, we also have goose, duck, swallow, dove & nests of other winged ones, too)

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