Courtsey Kenn Kaufman
In North America, most Tricolored Herons breed coastally from New Jersey through Florida and then west and south along the Gulf Coast. A few breed into New England and the coastal plain. Populations concentrate around places like Florida's Cape Canaveral, Louisiana's Sabine River estuary, and Texas's mid-coast bays. The Tricolored Heron's winter range covers much of this same area, with most birds withdrawing below North Carolina. Tricolored Herons also breed and winter coastally from Mexico south to Peru and northern Brazil.
A legend for the range map to the right can be found here
Tricolored Herons most often breed in coastal wetlands such as mangroves, estuaries, lagoons, and salt marshes, but they also use freshwater marshes, like the Florida Everglades. Wintering birds are generalists that are more attracted by food sources than by a specific habitat type. Rarely found on dry land, Tricolored Herons prefer wetlands with low vegetation and shallow water, suitable for wading up to their chests.
Along shorelines and in water as deep as seven inches, Tricolored Herons actively pursue small fish like topminnows, killifish, and livebearers, which together comprise almost 90% of the diet. Other prey items include marine worms, water bugs, and spiders. This egret waits in ambush, then walks methodically, runs or twirls with open wings, and even hovers over fish schools. Typically, the bird then crouches and thrusts out its long neck to snatch up prey.
In colonies with other herons, Tricolored Herons usually nest in short trees, tall shrubs, and mangroves. Males establish territories with twig shaking displays, nest platform construction, and exaggerated preening. Courtship displays include the "snap-stretch," in which the male elongates his body upward, then collapses down with upheld bill, neck folded in an S, and plumes erect. As his neck sways, the male emits an "Unh!" Pairs are monogamous. Males gather twigs and pass them to the female, who constructs a loose nest, with increasingly smaller twigs, and finally, course grasses. Both sexes incubate three to four bluish-green eggs for about 22 days; together they brood, feed, and defend the yellowish hatchlings.
For the first week after hatching, parent herons regurgitate clumps of food onto the nest floor, which the hatchlings eat until they are strong enough to be fed directly. Young birds are fed for about seven weeks. When they are able to fly, begging juveniles pursue their parents around the colony. Adults lead the juveniles to feeding areas, where their association appears to end.
Almost all Tricolored Herons breeding north of North Carolina migrate south; fewer of these egrets are seen along the southern Atlantic seaboard in winter than in summer. Northern migrants winter into the southeastern U.S., the Caribbean, and Central America. Immediately after breeding, the Tricolored Herons disperse, but less widely than other herons or egrets. Spring migration probably starts as early as February and ends as late as early May.