|Other names:||Ardea, Erodius, Nocticora, Noctua|
A bird wise above all others
The heron is a bird that is wiser than all others, because it does not have many resting places, but lives near to where its food is. It nests in high trees, but gets its food from the water. It never eats carrion. It is afraid of rain storms and flies high above the clouds to avoid them; thus when a heron takes flight, it means that a storm is coming. A heron uses its beak to defend the young in its nest from other birds.
Some herons are white while others are grey like ash.
The night heron is called Nocticora; it is described in Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Plut.40.52 (f. 38v) as a night bird that looks for corpses and is blinded by the sun.
The heron signifies those who fear the disorder of the world, and to avoid its storms fly high above it in spirit. As the heron gets its food from the water but nests high in trees, so does the wise man who must get his food from transitory things but place the hope of his soul in eternal things. As the heron defends its chicks, so does the just man who chastens those who try to deceive others. The colors of the heron signify purity (white) and penitence (ash-grey).
Lucan [1st century CE] (Pharsalia, book 5, verse 622-635): "...a southern gale, the rest proclaimed / A northern tempest ... the heron used / To wade among the shallows, borne aloft / And soaring on his wings...".
Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 7:21): The heron (ardea) is named as if it were ardua, in flight for others. It is afraid of lightning and so flies above the clouds to avoid the gusts; when it flies high it signifies a storm.