Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

(Ardea herodias)


Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron


Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron


The Great Blue Heron is the largest heron in North America.  Their size and overall blue-gray color make identification easy.  When they fly, they tuck their long neck into a tight “S” shape and their long legs trail beyond the end of their tail.

Adult Great Blue Herons are 38-54 inches (97-137 cm) long and have wingspans of 66-79 inches (167-201 cm).  Amazingly, these massive birds only weigh around 74-88 ounces (2100-2500 grams).  This is due to the fact that, like other birds, their bones are hollow, which reduces weight to help them fly.

This heron is a very patient hunter and will stand like a statue for long periods or wade very slowly in search of its prey.  Once it finds a target, it strikes with lightning fast accuracy using its long dagger-like bill to stab or grasp its meal.

Special feathers continually grow and fray on the heron’s chest which results in a powdery like down.  The heron uses a special claw to comb through this down and then preens its feathers with it to remove slime, odors and oils.


Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron


Great Blue Herons can be found close to both salt and fresh water.  They will attempt to eat almost anything, including fish, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, insects and even other birds.

Nests are usually built in the tops of trees but can also be found on the ground.  Although Great Blue Herons may nest together in colonies (usually not with other heron species, though), it’s not uncommon for them to nest as just a pair.  These herons typically share nest building and the male will often “present” a twig to the female during courtship.  This species chooses a new mate each year.  Both sexes rear the young and vigorously defend the nesting site.

Last Sunday, I saw a Great Blue Heron atop a Bald Cypress tree along a lake shore.  (See the previous post, “A Walk In The Park” for a description of the area and other photos.)  I took a photograph and the bird squawked loudly and took off.  I thought I had gotten too close for comfort.  The bird continued to yell as it flew out into the lake.  As I watched, the heron attacked a Double-crested Cormorant.  I was surprised the cormorant turned and defended itself instead of flying away.  The two birds continued to stab at each other for two or three minutes and then settled down.  I didn’t see any actual blows landed and the heron flew back to shore and the cormorant swam out of sight behind some reeds.

As the heron returned to shore, it landed in a different tree from where I took the first picture and I saw the reason for the attack.  There was a nest in the tree!  The cormorant must have approached closer than the heron was willing to allow.

The photos of the encounter are not very clear due to the distance of the birds out in the lake, but I thought it might be interesting to see the behavior.  I don’t recall ever seeing a Great Blue Heron floating in deep water.  I couldn’t help but wonder at how easily she was able to take off as those wet feathers must surely have added quite a bit of weight.

I’ll monitor this nest as the weeks progress to see if I can detect any chicks.


Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron

Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron


Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron

Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron

Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron

Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron

Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron

Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron

Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron

Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron



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Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , | 39 Comments

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39 thoughts on “Great Blue Heron

  1. I can almost hear the “Your mama” and “you’re another one” language in that encounter!

    • I still can’t believe the cormorant didn’t just fly away. I mean, just look at the difference in those beaks!

      • Somebody needs to remind him that size really does matter (at least when it comes to beaks and wingspread)! 🙂

  2. What an interesting encounter, Wally. I love behavioral sequences and this one was quite unique – something I’ve never seen before. Good job on the GBH natural history, too.

  3. Well, that was really a fantastic work of photos! Marvelous, I think and an interesting story about the heron and cormorant! Amazing!
    Thanks for your nice comment, Wally!
    Greetings Pia

  4. just amazing shots Wally. That heron is so huge taht achieving 100% focus could not be easy at all but you did it. Great information and commentary as usual and good captures of the interaction between the heron and cormorant. I think that cormorant was on a loser taking on the giant though

  5. What amazing photos of the action!

  6. You caught him in so many active poses — wonderful. In the top photo it looks like he’s dancing. Great series.

  7. Incredible series of the encounter between the heron and the cormorant Wally! I’ve never seen that behavior before, especially with a Cormorant. I would say the Heron had the reach advantage 😉 All gorgeous shots of the Great Blue Heron, a bird I really enjoy seeing no matter where I am.

  8. That image of the heron, with its flaps down for landing is wonderful!

    Cheers and thanks for linking to WBW

    Stewart M – Melbourne

  9. Hey Wally. Great pictures you took of heron.
    We saw one yesterday when we were on the “photo safari”, but the wing when it discovered us …..
    Thanks for your comment on my blog (counts) We’ve got thaw here – the snow has melted.
    Wish you a good day / good weekend 🙂 Hanne Bente

  10. Wow! I started to say Wow, Wally but thought it might appear too Leave It To Beaverish. 🙂
    Outstanding images! That first one had my attention right away and the ‘action’ shots were super.
    I hope we get to see chicks!
    Really nice post!

    • Thank you, Carletta, for the kind comments! I’ll try to keep an eye on nest activity. (Never a problem to refer to one of my favorite shows!)

  11. FANTASTIC photos! And wonderful info. I enjoyed learning some new things about one of my favorite birds and also seeing it in action defending its nest! Hope you are able to take pictures of the nestlings!

    • To take pictures of the nestlings, they’re gonna have come down to see me! Or I’ll need to become a LOT taller! 🙂
      Thank your for visiting and for your nice remarks.

  12. The Great Blue Heron is an amazing bird …. beautiful colourings
    It’s interesting to see how they tuck their long necks in.

    • They are quite plentiful in our area but I always seem to see them do something new when I’m out! I guess that’s what keeps me going out!

  13. Wow, these are incredible photos. I’ve never seen a GBH interact with any other bird, so this was really interesting. I’ve also never seen one floating on water. Fascinating facts about this lovely bird!

    • It’s amazing how little we know about a bird that’s probably photographed more than most. Thank you so much for the nice comments!

  14. What a wonderful and informative post, and such amazing shots! I love them all, but the ones with the cormorant are definitely interesting. 🙂

  15. Wow. I would have run if I were attacked by that bird. He looks like a martial artist in that stance. Fantastic shots!

  16. Super series, particularly the action shots. I can’t recall ever seeing one of our Greys take on a Cormorant.

  17. Awesome photowork!

  18. TexWisGirl

    i love that interaction between them! such ‘disdain’ as they both go off. 🙂

    (when i can make YOU jealous with a bird shot, i must have gotten really lucky…)

  19. jimbey

    …. Great action shots and info about our state “Totem”.

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