Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias Hamilton
Friday October 15 2010
Stretch your arms as wide as you can. Now picture a bird whose wingspan is at least that wide. This is the Great Blue Heron, the largest, most widespread North American heron. An up-close encounter with this graceful bird is unforgettable, whether by canoe you come upon one stealthily hunting in a shallow river, or see one fly overhead, its huge wings slowly flapping, across a field or along a lakeshore.
The Great Blue Heron is a large, slim wading bird with a long, curving neck and long legs. Most often confused mistaken as a Sandhill Crane, in flight the Great Blue Heron folds its neck back over its shoulders in an S-shape, while cranes hold their necks outstretched in flight. While hunting, the Great Blue Heron stands nearly motionless, and despite its size can be easily overlooked.
Most often, you’ll find the Great Blue Heron hunting in shallow waters along the edges of rivers, lakes and marshes across the Great Lakes region. The bird also might be seen foraging in fields and wet meadows. The Great Blue eats all kinds of fish, but also will take frogs, salamanders, lizards, snakes, grasshoppers, dragonflies, large aquatic insects, crustaceans, shrews, mice and other small rodents.
Though it prefers to feed alone, the Great Blue Heron nests in large colonies that can include hundreds of nests.
These nesting grounds usually comprise isolated stands of trees. Typical nesting trees are tall, holding one or more twig-and-stick nests in the tops of upper limbs, up to 100 or more feet off the ground. Heron colonies may last for decades, though over time, concentrated heron droppings can sometimes kill the trees. The birds’ shallow-water feeding areas may be located several miles from the colony.
DOUG WORRALL PHOTOGRAPHY