Great Blue Heron
What’s blue-grey, about three feet tall, loves to eat fish, looks like a pterodactyl in flight, and lays eggs? No, not a cross between Big Bird’s mother and Cookie Monster. No, not an exotic bird that lives at the zoo. Yes, a great blue heron!
Great blue herons are spectacular birds that live right in the midst of our urban community. All year long, you will find them lingering in the shallows of our rivers and streams, still as sentinels, waiting silently for a meal to happen by. If you’re not looking carefully, you might miss the next heron you pass, its blue-grey plumage blending into a background of blue-grey water and sky. An unlucky fish will also most certainly miss seeing this tall hunter on stilt-like legs, and end up as the heron’s dinner. With its long neck and dagger-like bill, the heron is an effective predator. It feeds mainly on fish, but also enjoys amphibians, bugs, and even small birds and mammals.
Great blue herons are particularly interesting to watch in the spring, when you can observe pair bonding, nest building, egg tending, chick feeding, and fledging behaviors. Despite their large size, great blue herons nest in groups, high in trees, building large, flat nests of interwoven sticks lined with twigs and leaves. Pairs create nests in early February and lay two to five eggs in March. Parents share the 28-day incubation, as well as the two-month feeding of the young birds. Fledglings later follow their parents to learn how to hunt. Herons may travel as much as eight miles to find food.
Here in our community, we are lucky to have lots of places to go heron watching, especially in the spring. Our favorite spot is near the Canoe Canal in Alton Baker Park, right outside The Science Factory Children’s Museum. For years, herons have built at least one, sometimes two or more, nests in a tall cottonwood next to this waterway. Thousands of local children who have participated in Nearby Nature’s programs have enjoyed watching the activities of these fine birds. Be sure to check them out this spring!