The Great Blue Heron, Ardea Herodias, is a wading bird that is commonly seen on the coast or at rivers. Standing at up to 54 inches tall and having a wingspan of up to 79 inches, the Great Blue Heron is easily one of the largest herons found in North America. It is easily recognized by not only its size but also by its majestic grey body and long “S” shaped neck.
Size and Shape
The Great Blue Heron has bluish-grey feathers that cover their body. They have a wide black stripe that runs over each eye, a black and white crown and when they are flying you can see that the upper part of their wing is two colors with the forewing being pale and the flight feathers being darker.
These wading birds have a very long neck that is usually “S” shaped. The shape of the neck makes the bird more aerodynamic and allows it to be quicker when it is catching its prey from a distance. When Great Blue Herons are flying, this long neck is tucked tightly into the “S” shape. The other main characteristic of a Great Blue Heron is its long skinny legs. These legs are carried behind the bird when it is flying and will stretch out beyond its tail. The wings that carry the Great Blue Herons are rounded and broad.
Even though these beautiful birds look shaggy due to their head, wing and chest plumes and they are very tall they only weigh about 6 pounds. This is because their bones are hollow.
When most people think of a Great Blue Heron, they think about the tall, blue or grey colored bird that is usually seen standing alone in a river, in the water on a beach or some other watery area. The reason these birds are seen standing in the water is that they are hunting, or fishing as it may be, for their next meal. This meal will be anything that happens to swim past them. It could be a fish, a shrimp, a frog or some other creature. These beautiful wading birds will stand as still as a statue until it sees its prey then with the speed of light it will grab the prey and have it for lunch. But, it is not beyond the herons to also catch a gopher should one come close by.
If you are wanting to see a Great Blue Heron for yourself it should not be a very difficult task. They are often seen in areas that have either saltwater or freshwater. This can include the coastline, rivers, lakes and tributaries. They have even been seen in the backyard in the pond that has been added to a yard for decoration. But places with water are not the only place they have been seen. They will also hang out in grasslands and fields, looking for that perfect meal.
When nesting season rolls around the breeding age Great Blue Herons will gather in “heronries” which are simply colonies where many breeding pairs build their nests. Nests in these colonies are built off the ground to help deter predators and just about anything will work. Nests have been built in trees and shrubs of course, but they have also been built in or on other things such as channel markers and platforms. There have even been instances where a nest has been built on the ground if the area has no predators and trees are not readily available. Most of these breeding colonies are located close to their feeding areas, usually between 2 and 4 miles between the two areas. These birds prefer their colonies to be in areas that are isolated such as swamps, islands and other places.
After the nesting site has been determined the male will collect the materials necessary for building the nest. He will get sticks from just about anywhere, including nests that have been abandoned or are unguarded. He will take these sticks to his female and she will weave them to build a platform and then a nest that is shaped like a saucer and cup. This nest will be lined with many things including moss, pine needles, small twigs, dry grass and more. It can take anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks for a nest to be built depending on the size it is built. The platforms that are built can be 20 inches wide and on up to many feet wide, depending on how many years the platform has been used and added on to.
In each nest there will be 2 to 6 eggs laid. These eggs are 2 ½ to 3 inches in length and 2 inches wide. It takes 27 to 29 days incubation period for these eggs to hatch and the nesting period is from 49 to 81 days in length. The eggs are pale blue and will get lighter in color as they age. When the chicks hatch they have down that is pale grey, they have blue eyes that are open and they are capable of vocalizing.
If you happen to get to visit one of these colonies be sure to watch for the courting displays as well as pair-bonding displays. But beware that these beautiful, graceful birds will defend their territories from intruders such as other herons, other birds and even humans. When they do this you may be greeted by them with thrown back heads and bills that point to the sky and outstretched wings.
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