GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias)
DESCRIPTION: The Great Blue Heron has a long neck, long slender legs and a long pointed bill. The plumage is mostly grey, with blue on the wings. The cap is dark with plumes extending behind. The face and throat are white. The lower part of the neck and breast have long white and dark plumes during breeding season. The pointed bill is yellow. The legs start reddish from the body and end in grey, as well as the feet. The eyes are yellow. Sexes are similar. This bird is about 54 inches high (135 cm), and has a wing span of about six feet (180 cm). There are a few sub-species.
VOICE: https://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Ardea-herodias – Their call is a harsh ‘krwak’.
NAME: The English name ‘Heron’ has a complicated origin and evolved from an ancient Greek word meaning ‘to creak or screech’ (in reference to that bird’s call). In terms of ‘blue’, this heron actually has more grey than blue on its plumage. The Latin genus name ‘Ardea’ means ‘heron’, and the Latin species name ‘herodias’ derives from Greek and also means ‘heron’.
HABITAT: Shallow fresh or saltwater along shores. Thanks to their long legs, these herons can forage in deeper areas than for other wading birds.
DIET: Mainly fish. Great blue herons can be seen hunting alone for fish or in small groups with some distance between individuals. They hunt by sight, holding their long necks in an ‘S’ shape, ready to deploy quickly to spear their prey. Great blue herons will also, if given the opportunity, raid the ponds of gardeners, even in cities.
NESTING: The great blue heron nests in colonies on top of trees. The nesting colony is called a ‘heronry’. It is usually located in an isolated area, like an island. Because the birds use the same trees year after year, they eventually die from guano build up. The colony then has to relocate. The nest itself is a large structure of sticks. The nesting areas are sensitive to disturbance. An average of five blue eggs are laid, which are incubated by both parents. Chicks are vulnerable until they can fly on their own. If they fall down the nest, they will be abandoned by the parents. Stanley Park in Vancouver, BC, has a large heronry.
DISTRIBUTION: The breeding range of the great blue heron starts from the southern portion of Canada and covers most of the USA. It usually migrates south of that range for the winter, down to Mexico and the Caribbean. Some rare individuals will end up on Hawaii.
ON PEI: With its abundance of shallow shores, rivers and marshes with tides exposing even more suitable feeding grounds, the geography of Prince Edward Island is an ideal environment for the great blue heron. Some individuals have been observed in the winter on unfrozen patches of water.
CONSERVATION: The population of great blue herons appears stable overall and the species is currently not deemed at risk. However that doesn’t mean nothing happens to them. Here’s an example of a contaminated site where this bird died from poisoning.
NOTES: Great blue herons fly slowly, with their necks folded as opposed to geese and swans.
SIMILAR SPECIES: Grey Heron
https://www.mba-aom.ca/jsp/toc.jsp (Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas)
Great Blue Heron in BC – Wildlife At Risk (.pdf brochure)
Colonial Nesting Birds – Island Nature Trust, PEI, Canada (.pdf brochure)
http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/greatblueheron.htm (New Hampshire PBS)
https://www.ealt.ca/species-spotlight-list/heron (Edmonton and Area Land Trust)
http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/okanagan/esd/atlas/species/heron.html (Environment, British Columbia)
https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/great-blue-heron (Missouri Department of Conservation)
This following two videos of a great blue heron show a peculiar visual effect due to the water current moving counter to the bird. It looks as if the bird is walking backwards. Taken at the North River along the boardwalk in Victoria Park, Charlottetown.