Herons are characteristic birds of wet places; wetlands and the coast. Expertly adapted to catch fish with their harpoon like bills, and able to wade into shallow water using their long legs, they can stand motionless for long periods – as every fisherman knows you have to patient to catch fish! In Lebanon, only two species breed; the Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) and occasionally the Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax). The 7 other species either only migrate through the country, or spend the winter. All are fascinating to watch and once you have found them (some are well camouflaged) easy to observe as they are medium sized to very large birds and, if not disturbed, will stay in one place for a long time.

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A Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) at Aammiq showing the characteristic dagger like bill and long legs, for wading in shallow water characteristic of this family.

Heron Species in Lebanon

These are the 9 species that can be seen in Lebanon, with their Scientific, English, Arabic and French names:

Scientific Name English Name Arabic Name French Name
Botaurus stellaris Bittern الواق Butor etoile
Ixobrychus minutus Little Bittern الواق الصغير Blongois nain
Nycticorax nycticorax Night Heron بلشون الليل Heron bihoreau
Ardeola ralloides Squacco Heron واق ابيض صغير Heron crabier
Bubulcus ibis Cattle Egret ابوقردان بلشون البقر Heron garde-boeufs
Egretta garzetta Little Egret بلشون ابيض صغير Aigrette garzette
Egretta Alba Great White Egret بلشون ابيض كبير Grande Aigrette
Ardea cinerea Grey Heron بلشون رمادي Heron cendre
Ardea purpurea Purple Heron بلشون ارجواني Heron pourpre
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As its name suggests the Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus), above, is the smallest member of the heron family in Lebanon. A common breeder in the wetlands of Aammiq and Kafr Zabad it can be seen climbing in the reeds, flying low over the water or as here, below, waiting patiently to catch a fish.
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The Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) above, often breeds at Aammiq and occasionally at lake Qaraoun. The bird pictured here is a juvenile as can be told from its streaky appearance.
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The Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) above, like the similar little Egret (Egretta garzetta) at the top of the page, is a stunning all white bird. During breeding some Egrets develop long plume feathers which used to be a fashionable addition to ladies hats and so many of these birds were killed. Fortunately the fashion is long gone but the birds are still vulnerable to sport hunting and loss of habitat and pollution.
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The Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides) above, and the much larger Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) below, show the characteristic “S” shaped neck that the birds display when flying and perched. The Squacco Heron is a small heron but the Grey Heron is a large bird approaching the size of a stork.
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Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus)
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Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)

The Best time and places to see Herons
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Bittern (Botaurus stellaris)

Little Bitterns arrive at their breeding sites in April (Aaamiq, Kafr Zabad particularly). The migrant species are best seen in the spring (as then there is the most water around) from mid March to May. Winter visitors such as the majestic Great White Egret tend to arrive at their Bekaa sites when the wetlands fill from winter rain, so January to March in most years. Outside of the wetland sites these birds can be seen migrating almost any where in the country but the coast is a particularly good place to keep a watch for them; Palm Islands, Ras Beirut from the Corniche and Tyre Beach Nature Reserve are particularly good sites.