Feathered Friday

The Great Blue Heron 

With an awkward charm and a healthy population, the Great Blue Heron (GBH) is a common sight around North America. This wading water bird is the largest in the heron family and easily the most charismatic. While it is legally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act it is on the conservation list of “least concern” as it continues to thrive. 

As the largest in the heron family with a wing span of around 6 feet, you might be surprised to learn thst because of hollow bones they weigh in at just 5-7 pounds. They are grayish-blue in overall color and head, chest and wing plumes give it a shaggy apprearance. Plumes also grow from the back and lower neck during breeding season. 

GBH have specialized feathers on their chest that continue to grow and fray. You will often see them combing this powdery down with a fringed claw on their middle toe, using the down like a washcloth to clean oils and fish slime as they preen. Applying the powder to their underparts protects the feathers. 

They are statue-like stalkers in shallow water or open fields. They stand motionless and rely on a lightening-fast thrust as they strike. A “bill stab” does the initial damage. I’ve witnessed the GBH  in pursuit of a snake and before they strike they seem to mimic the motion of their prey with a signature “wiggle”. Pressure is applied until the snake ceases to resist and they are then swallowed whole. 

The GBH hunts for fish, salamanders, frogs, turtles, snakes, insects, rodents and birds. They have been observed stalking voles snd gophers and even a Virginia rail at marsh edge. They are patient, determined and efficient hunters. I’d be embarrassed to say how many hours I have spent observing and photographing this beautiful creature. 

They nest together in heronries with the males collecting the sticks and the female arranging the nest. They are monogomous through breeding season and find other mates in the following cycle. Both parents incubate the eggs. 

In flight, the GBH tuck in their necks, leave their legs trailing and use slow, powerful wingbeats to lift them. My camera is not the best for clear flight shots but after an awkward take-off they are graceful in the air. 

Their symbolism as an spirit animal is all about self-determination, stillness and tranquility. They also symbolize the ability to progress and evolve. They typically live 15 years with the oldest tagged bird living to 24 years. A group of herons is called a seige, a sedge or a scattering. 

Having mentioned charisma and personality, here are a few shots of those qualities that I took over the past year. 

Thanks for joining me today. 

12 Comments on “Feathered Friday

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your talents!!! I so enjoy reading your blog and seeing your amazing photos! We live on a hill just above Discovery Bay and have seen lots of beautiful Blue Herons! I’ve captured a few amateur photos, even one in flight….but nothing like yours! And your information on them in wonderful! Thanks again!!!

    • Thank you so much, Karen ! It sounds pretty wonderful where you live. There are so many amazing creatures to spend time with. I’d love to get a good photo of a heron in flight, but no luck yet. My post today is about just how humbling bird photography has proven to be for me. A labor of love and patience, hits and misses. A lot like life 🦅🕊🦅

  2. Love this blog! Good education on these guys too. Each different bird definitely does look to have their own personal charm. Thanks for the hours you put in capturing these photos, we all love them!

    • Thank you so much. I consider this my part time job these days. Well, not a job. If it were work I might not love it so much. Thanks for reading and writing ! I love knowing people are checking in !

  3. These are stunning. Having just spent hours with my granddaughter just trying to get a good shot of our backyard scrubjay, I can imagine the patience and tenacity it takes to get these shots. I feel like there could be matching shots of some very hip and wild human hairdos that match up with some of these feathery do’s. Also – those legs!

    • I’ve actually got a blog post in the works about how humbling photographing birds can be. The fact that the heron are so still make them a popular choice.  Yesterday’s adventure trying to capture hummingbirds and kinglets was much more challenging. Thanks for writing. Those scrub jays are among my very favorite birds !

  4. Thanks for sharing the information about their habitat and hunting mastery. Students could take a lesson from the patience and observation skills of a GBH.

    • Thanks Keitha ! Such fascinating birds, aren’t they ? And yes, many good lessons about patience, determination and persistence !

  5. I’ve watched many herons and never seen the positions you captured! Very cool-thank you!

    • Thanks for reading. I have literally spent hours with them and they have a thoussnd different “looks”. Looking forward to some young ones this spring !

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: