Skip to Content

16 Heron Illustrations & Paintings: Public Domain Treasures That Bring the Wetlands to Life

Experience the majestic beauty of herons through a curated collection of public-domain illustrations. From detailed sketches to vibrant paintings, these Heron Illustrations reflect the elegance of these regal waterfowls.

I spot a beautiful grey heron on my daily morning walk along the river.  It always looks majestic, 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 18th and 19th Century ornithological books.  I’m sure you will recognize some as they are pretty famous, especially those of the blue heron.  John James Audubon’s painting of the great blue heron is probably one of the most famous.

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.

10 Interesting Facts about Herons

  1. Herons are long-legged wading birds.  There are 64 known species, some of which are also known as egrets or bitterns.
  2. Herons inhabit on all the continents except Antarctica
  3. They are non-swimming water birds that feed on the edges of lakes rivers ponds and the sea.
  4. They are mainly carnivores eating fish, frogs, small mammals, birds, reptiles and insects
  5. Herons can be easily recognized by their long, S-shaped neck, dagger-like bill and long legs.
  6. They commonly hunt by sitting motionless on the water’s edge, waiting for prey. They stab their prey with sharp bills by quickly straightening their S-shaped neck toward the victim.
  7. Herons have huge wingspans, usually two times bigger than their body size. The wingspan of herons can reach 5.5 to 6.6 feet.
  8. The average lifespan of this bird species is around 15 years in the wild and up to 25 years in captivity.
  9. 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.
  10. Herons have specially designed sight that enables them to hunt during the night, as well as the day.
free vintage heron paintings

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.

Heron Illustrations 1 to 5

1.Great Blue Heron – Audubon

I mentioned This famous blue heron painting by Audubon 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 and pelican prints here.

Great Blue Heron Audubon free print

2. Mark Catesby – Blue Heron

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).

Mark Catesby Blue Heron

3. Great Egret (Great White Heron) – Audubon

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).

Great White heron Audubon

4. Pair of Great White Herons Painting

A pair of great egrets by Thomas Hardwicke from the book “Indian Zoology volume II” published in 1833.

Great egrets painting

5. Grey Heron – 1797

I see This species of heron on my morning walk by the river. That’s not surprising, as grey herons are well known for adapting 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 use 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.

Grey heron painting

Heron Illustations 6-10

6. Purple Heron – 1849 Charles Dessalines d’ Orbigny

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.

Charles Dessalines d' Orbigny  Purple Heron

7. Indian Pond Heron

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 may sometimes feed nearby during the dry seasons when small wetlands have a high prey concentration. 

Indian Pond Heron

8. Boat Billed Heron – 1792

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 that 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.

boat billed heron

9. Black-Headed Heron – 1849

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.

black headed heron

10. Goliath Heron – 1838

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.

goliath heron

Heron Paintings 11-15

11. Great Billed Heron

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).

great billed heron

12. Le Heron Cendre – (Grey Heron Paintings)

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.

fishing grey heron

13. Herons In Shallow Water

This beautiful heron painting is one of the Japanese artists Ohara Kosons famous bird paintings.

Herons in shallow water

14. Heron In The Snow

Another one of Ohara’s heron paintings.

Heron in snow

15. Herons in the rain

Another Ohara Koson heron illustration. In Japanese culture, herons are often associated with purity and grace. Koson’s portrayal of herons in a dignified and elegant manner may reflect these cultural associations.

Ohara Koson Birds two herons in the rain

Print 16: Kono Bairei Herons

A pair of herons among Japanese Iris from the vintage Japanese birds and flower paintings of Kono Bairei.

Heron and Irises Japanese Birds and Flower Painting

If you liked these wonderful vintage heron paintings don’t forget to check out these other free to download bird prints.

Check out the stunning collection of bird prints on Pictureboxblue and see how you can hang them in a fabulous gallery wall using old picture frames.

Marc Spries

Wednesday 27th of July 2022

How do I get hi-res images of some of these heron drawings in TIFF or ai files - as the current jpegs are just too small for large printing?


Sunday 31st of July 2022

These are the highest resolution images I was able to source. Maybe try the Audubon Society to see if you can get bigger files.

Carla Chantry

Friday 30th of April 2021

Thank you for sharing your blue herring paintings. Beautiful!


Friday 30th of April 2021

Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed them.


Monday 13th of January 2020

Beautiful paintings, Claire. I have seen these birds around the lakes but never know their names, now I know them :)Thank you for linking with us at #HomeMatters Linky Party.


Monday 13th of January 2020

Thank you, they are very majestic and it seems special when you manage to see one in the wild.