There is a beautiful grey heron I spot on my daily morning walk along the river. It always looks so majestic just perched on the riverbank patiently waiting for fish. This solitary grey heron has inspired me to curate a stunning collection of vintage heron paintings.
Most of these paintings are from the 18th and 19th Century ornithological books. Some I’m sure you will recognize as they are quite famous especially those of the blue heron. John James Audubon’s painting of the great blue heron is probably one of the most famous ones.
Although herons look very similar to other species of wading birds such as cranes and storks. They differ from them, in the way that they fly. Herons fly with their necks tucked in and not outstretched.
Interesting Facts about Herons
- Herons are long-legged wading birds. There are 64 known species some of which are also known as egret or bitterns.
- Herons inhabit on all the continents except Antarctica
- They are nonswimming water birds that feed on the edges of lakes rivers ponds and the sea.
- They are mainly carnivores eating fish, frogs, small mammals, birds, reptiles and insects
- Herons can be easily recognized by their long, S-shaped neck, dagger-like bill and long legs.
- They commonly hunt by sitting motionless on the edge of water waiting for their prey. They then stab their prey with their sharp bills by quickly straightening their S-shaped neck toward the victim.
- Herons have huge wingspan, usually two times bigger than their body size. The wingspan of herons can reach 5.5 to 6.6 feet.
- The average lifespan of this bird species is around 15 years in the wild and up to 25 years in captivity.
- Herons are excellent flyers that can reach a speed of 30 miles per hour. During the flight, their neck is curled in S-shape, while legs dangle behind the body.
- Herons have specially designed sight that enables them to hunt during the night, as well as the day.
The Vintage Heron Paintings and Illustrations
To download the heron painting you want just click on the title above the illustration. A higher resolution image should open in a new window on your browser. You can then simply save this image to your hard drive.
All the heron paintings are in the public domain so you are free to use them how you wish.
This is the famous blue heron painting by Audubon that I mentioned in the introduction. It is from the book “Birds of America” published in 1821.
The Great Blue Heron is the largest North American heron. It is found throughout most of North America, as far north as Alaska and the southern Canadian provinces in the summer.
You will find a couple of Audubon’s owl illustrations here.
Another blue heron painting, this one from 1768.
This is from Mark Catesby book “Recueil de divers oiseaux étrangers et peu communs” (Collection of various foreign and unusual birds).
Another one of Audubon’s fabulous heron paintings from “The Birds of America”.
The egret occurs worldwide in both temperate and tropical climates. It is a large heron with all-white plumage. Standing up to 1m tall, this species has a wingspan of up to 170 cm (which is actually my height).
A pair of great egrets by Thomas Hardwicke from the book “Indian Zoology volume II” published in 1833.
This is the species of heron I see on my morning walk by the river. That’s not surprising, as grey herons are well known for having adapted well to city life.
For example in the Netherlands, they can be found in great numbers in urban environments in cities such as Amsterdam. They hunt as usual but also visit street markets and snack bars.
Some birds make use of people feeding them at their homes and have been known to share the catch of hobby fishermen. The fish in garden ponds are a target of grey herons and may also be used to teach young birds how to catch easy prey.
This vintage heron painting is from the book “The natural history of British birds, or, A selection of the most rare, beautiful and interesting birds which inhabit this country – the descriptions from the Systema naturae of Linnaeus” by Edward Donovan et al.
The purple heron looks like the grey heron but is slightly smaller, more slender and has darker plumage. It is also a more evasive bird, favoring densely vegetated habitats near water, particularly reed beds.
This heron painting is from the famous “Dictionnaire universel d’histoire naturelle” by Charles Dessalines d’ Orbigny.
Another wonderful heron illustration by Thomas Hardwicke (1833) from “Indian Zoology“
The Indian pond heron (paddybird) is a small heron common in India. They are usually solitary foragers but many of them may sometimes feed in close proximity during the dry seasons when small wetlands have a high concentration of prey.
This boat billed heron painting is by Geroge Shaw.
The boat-billed heron is not a typical member of the heron family. It lives in mangrove swamps in central and south America. The heron is a nocturnal bird, and breeds semi-colonially in mangrove trees, laying two to four bluish-white eggs in a twig nest.
The formation of the beak in this bird is strikingly singular, and is perhaps broader in proportion to its length than in any other known bird; the upper mandible is carinated or furnished with a rising longitudinal prominence, which gives it an appearance not ill resembling an inverted boat.
This vintage image of a black-headed heron is from the book “Iconographie ornithologique” (Bird Iconography), by Marc Athanase Parfait Œillet des Murs et al.
The black-headed heron is common in sub-Saharan Africa. It resembles the grey heron and is nearly as big as it. However, it is generally darker. The black-headed heron’s plumage is largely grey above, and paler grey below. It has a powerful dusky bill.
Vintage painting of a Goliath (giant) heron. The illustration is from the book “Nouveau recueil de planches coloriées d’oiseaux” (New collection of colored plates of birds) by Temminck, C.J. et al.
The goliath heron is the largest of the living heron species hence the name. It is found mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa and feeds mainly on relatively large fish.
The great-billed heron can be found in much of coastal Southern Asia and Australasia. Its habitats are largely coastal such as islands, coral reefs, mangroves, large rivers. Occasionally, it can also be found inland in shallow ponds.
Another vintage heron illustration is from the book “Nouveau recueil de planches coloriées d’oiseaux” (New collection of colored plates of birds).
Le Heron Cendre translates as ash heron which is another word for the grey heron. So this vintage heron painting is of a grey heron.
I love the composition of this heron illustration showing the bird by the river bank ready to pounce on an unsuspecting fish.
This is from Mark Catesby book “Recueil de divers oiseaux étrangers et peu communs” (Collection of various foreign and unusual birds) 1768.
If you liked these wonderful vintage heron paintings don’t forget to check out these other free to download bird prints.
- Flamingo Art Prints
- Collection of Toucan Paintings
- Amazing Parrot Paintings of Edward Lear
- Vintage Penguin Illustrations
- Natural History Posters of Adolphe Millot