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Great Blue Heron great blue heron

Identification and Pictures

(Ardea herodias)great blue heron

The Great Blue Heron is a lean, blue-gray bird with chestnut on the thighs, which stands 4 feet tall, and is 42 to 45 inches.  It is the largest heron in North America.  Their long legs, long neck, and long, sharp, orange bill are all well suited to their habit of wading, and fishing.  The adults have a shaggy ruff on their neck, and show white around the head.  In breeding plumage they may have plumes.  They have a 6 foot wing span, and fly with their neck folded in an s shape, and the legs trailing behind.  The sexes look similar.  Young birds are duller in color, and have a dark gray crown.  Herons are often seen standing motionless with the head either erect or between the shoulders.  Although they may stand 4 feet tall they usually only weigh around 5 pounds because they have hollow bones.  These birds are often mistaken for cranes.  

Photos by Keith Lee.  The camera I use is the Canon EOS 40D. great blue heron

Sound

The Great Blue Heron's voice is a deep harsh croak.  Sound

Preferred Habitat

Great Blue Herons range across most of North America.  They can be found near water sources such as swamps, lakes, rivers, shore lines, and tidal flats.  Northern populations may be migratory while birds in others areas are year round residents. 

Breeding and Nesting

At the beginning of the nesting season the male chooses a territory, and does displays to attract a female.  Herons usually nest in large colonies called heronries, but may nest as lone pairs.  For a nest they build a stick platform lined with moss, grass, bark strips, and twigs usually in a tree or bushes, but sometimes on a cliff edge or in reeds.  The female lays 3 to 6 bluish eggs.  The parents will take turns incubating the eggs for around 30 days.  Both adults will feed and care for the young birds which will fledge in about 2 months.  The young birds will return to the nest to be fed for an additional week.  A pair only raises one brood each year.

Food 

Herons feed mostly on fish but also eat things like frogs, salamanders, small mammals, birds, crabs, crayfish, and insects.  They have two methods of foraging.  In one method they stand still until they see their prey, then they strike swiftly with their dagger like beak, grabbing or impaling it.  They also stock their prey, wading slowly until they are in striking distance.  They fish both night, and day however they are more active during mornings and dusk because these are the best fishing times.   


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