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 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.
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