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.