Great Blue Heron
Imagine standing six inches deep in water on the edge of a slow moving creek. As still as a statue as you scan the water waiting for a fish to swim by. After a few minutes of not seeing any fish, you begin to slowly wade through the water. Slow enough to not even ripple the water. You pull a long skinny leg out of the water to take a step. As you begin to lift your other leg, a seven-inch bluegill comes into sight from the right. It’s slowly moving closer to you and you don’t move an inch. The fish swims away but you have the upper hand. You know the bluegill will come back. You need to be patient - very patient. After a couple seconds, very slowly it returns, picking at the algae on the rocks at the bottom of the creek. You let it move around your legs, waiting calmly as it comes to a stop in front of your feet. You wait another minute to be sure it won’t swim away again.... and then you strike! You plunge your large sharp beak straight into the bluegill and pull it out of the water. It takes a couple jabs for the fish to stop wiggling. Finally, you’re able to swallow it whole and hope that it will fit down your neck! That’s what it would be like to be a Great Blue Heron hunting for fish!
Great Blue Herons also eat frogs, salamanders, snakes and even rodents! They eat many other small animals, but fish tends to be their main source of food. Herons eat their prey whole. Generally a solitary feeder, they typically eat during dusk and dawn but have been seen dining at all hours.
Great Blue Herons breeding patterns are different from their normal solitary lives, as shown on the right, this specific pair of herons have been seen often on the Chester Valley Trail. They breed in colonies that can be from a few pairs to hundreds of pairs nesting in one area. Their nests are very high up in trees close to a body of water like a lake or marsh. They tend to reuse nests from year to year if they are still available. If not, they will make a new nest or use an old nest left by other herons. Great Blue Herons have a different mate each year.
The Great Blue Heron has a long, winding neck with long gray feathers. The extended skinny neck can be a problem. On occasion, a big fish may cause a heron to choke before realizing it's too big to swallow whole.
Another distinguishing characteristic is their gray and blue colored flight feathers. Their head is almost white with dark plumes that go from the eyes to the back of the head. The rest of their bodies are dark gray to light gray. The heron’s long, skinny legs are perfect for wading slowly and unnoticed in shallow water. The most distinguishing characteristic is their long, sharp beak.
When in motion, the Great Blue Heron will extend his wings to their full length of five feet and jump into the air, pulling his neck in just a bit and start pushing his wings up and down to gain some height. Finally, he begins soaring through the air with dignity and grace.