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(herons), a family of birds of the order Ciconiiformes. The body measures 28–140 cm in length, and the neck and legs are long. The skin of the crusis is partly naked. The digits are long and slender, and the middle claw is comb-edged. The bill is straight and sharp. The plumage is lax, with two to four pairs of patches of powdery down. Coloration is gray-blue, gray, brown, or white, often with longitudinal markings.
The 66 species that constitute the family are distributed throughout the globe except in polar regions, predominantly in the tropics and subtropics. The USSR has 16 species, including the little bittern and other bitterns, night herons, the squacco heron, cattle egret, common heron, purple heron, and reef herons.
Herons that inhabit temperate latitudes are usually migratory. Bitterns keep to dense coastal thickets, while other species inhabit open ground along the banks of bodies of water and moist meadows. They nest in colonies, often together with other birds, such as cormorants, spoonbills, and glossy ibises. The nests are built on trees, shrubs, or broken reeds. The female lays three to seven eggs of solid color, which are incubated by both the female and male. The fledglings are covered with sparse down and stay in or near the nest for a long period.
Herons feed on small fish, frogs, mollusks, insects, and sometimes rodents or young birds. They watch for their prey while standing immobile in shallow waters or catch it while wading.
The boat-billed heron (Cochlearius cochlearia) is often assigned to the Ardeidae.