Great Blue Heron

Common Name: Great Blue Heron.

Scientific Name: Ardea herodias.

What to look for?  The Great Blue Heron has subtle blue-gray plumage, a gray neck and a black and white throat. Their bills are yellowish-orange. And they have yellowish legs. Think smaller version of Sesame Street's "Big Bird" except mostly gray!

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? Look along the shorelines of our ponds. And occasionally, you can spot a Great Blue Heron roosting in the trees above our western pond.

How big are they? The Great Blue Heron averages 4 feet in height. They weigh in at approximately 5 pounds. And their wingspan is an expansive 6 feet.

What are their flight patterns? The flight of the Great Blue Heron has been described as majestic. Or if directly toward you (as in photo to the lower right), the Great Blue Heron looks like a "Klingon Bird of Prey" - need to have Star Trek friends! How would you describe it? In flight, the Great Blue Heron folds its neck into an “S” shape and trails its long legs behind, dangling them as it prepares to land. This distinguishes Great Blue Herons (and Great Egrets) from Storks and Cranes which fly with their necks fully extended.

How else do they behave? Great Blue Herons and the Great Egrets hunt in a similar fashion. They wade slowly through the shore of ponds and wetlands. They will stand immobile patiently awaiting a fish – its motionless legs looking like branches to its prey. They will jab their sharp bill and snatch up the fish or prey and swallow it.

What’s for dinner? The Great Blue Heron is a carnivore and hunter. They feed on fish, frogs, crustaceans, snakes and other small aquatic animals.

Where do they take up residence? The Great Blue Heron is common in North America (see map from Birds of North America in right column). Great Blue Herons live in both freshwater and saltwater habitats. They can also be found foraging in grasslands and agricultural fields. Most breeding colonies are located within 2 to 4 miles of feeding areas, often in isolated swamps or on islands, and near lakes and ponds bordered by forests. The Great Blue Heron is highly adaptable and thrives around all kinds of waters from mangrove swamps to desert rivers to the coastline of southern Alaska.

Where do they breed and nest? The Great Blue Heron will build nests upwards of 700 feet off the ground near the top of a tree and near a wetland. (See photos to right). The nest is large – up to three (3) feet wide and one (1) foot deep. Great Blue Herons often nest in large groups, or rookeries. There is a large rookery approximately one mile from Carillon Stonegate Pond. The breeding season typically occurs from March into May. The female lays eggs which will hatch in approximately one (1) month. The young birds will fledge in about an additional two (2) months.

Where do they migrate? Great Blue Herons may stop off in the Midwest as they migrate to their primary breeding grounds in the northern U.S. and Canada. And during the winter, they move south. They migrate by day or night in small flocks or alone. Great Blue Herons may reside permanently in the southern and central U.S. and along the Pacific coast - not migrating at all. In late summer and fall, Great Blue Herons are found across the U.S. See map from Birds of North America on the right.

What is their conservation status? There is low concern. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Great Blue Heron has seen slight decreases in populations. North American Waterbird Conservation Plan estimates the global breeding population at 83 thousand.

Do they make any interesting sounds? Great Blue Herons are mostly silent as you see them on our ponds. But they do make various squawking calls. And when they are alarmed or disturbed, they produce a clucking sound followed by a very lengthy rapid squawk. Here is a link to the sounds of the Great Blue Heron.

Interesting Facts About Great Blue Herons:

  • Herons spend approximately 90 percent of their waking hours stalking for food (i.e., very patient fisherman!).

  • Great blue herons are monogamous during breeding season, but will choose a new partner the next year.

  • When alarmed, herons may make make 3-4 hoarse croaks to warn others before taking off - you may have heard this sound around our ponds.

  • Not all great blue herons nest in trees - some herons nest on the ground, and will use grasses to build their nests instead of sticks.

  • Herons also roost in trees - as seen at Carillon Stonegate Pond - for safety from predators as shown in the other photo on this blog.

  • There is a form of great blue heron in Florida that is solid white, known as the 'Great White Heron'.

  • Some herons are migratory, and will travel day and night while migrating (see map from Birds of North American on right). Generally, herons migrate north into the northern Great Plains or Canada to breed.

  • Great blue herons will hunt both during the day and the night. They have specially adapted eyes which help them to see in the dark.

  • A heron will typically live for around 15 years; the oldest recorded great blue heron lived to be 24 years old.

For more information on Great Blue Herons and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds, Audubon Society, American Expedition and Chicago Botanic Gardens.  And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.

 

Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!