Great Blue Heron

Common Name: Great Blue Heron
Class: Aves
Order: Ciconiiformes
Family: Ardeidae
Genus: Ardea
Species: Ardea herodias

photo M. Noonan



Taxonomy/ Description


Great blue herons are the largest herons that can be found in North America. When standing, they can be approximately 60 centimeters tall. They also have a wingspan that ranges from about 97 to 137 centimeters, and can weight from 2.1 to 2.5 kilograms. As far as the other physical features are concerned, Great blue herons have short tails, long necks, legs, and wings, as well as a long bill that tapers to a point at the end. The bill of a Great blue heron has a yellowish color and their legs are green. In addition, their necks are often curved in an “S” during both rest and flight. Despite their name, Great blue herons are not actually blue. They have grey upper bodies, and their necks are streaked with a combination of white, black, and rust- brown. Also, the back of their necks have grey feathers on them and their thighs have feathers of a chestnut color. In addition, the males have a puffy plume if feathers behind their heads and are often slightly larger than the females.

 


photo Ivan Andrijevic


Habitat/ Diet


The Great Blue Heron can be founding a variety of regions. Although the Great Blue Heron lives near inland sources of water, such as along rivers, lakes, and saltwater seacoasts, and in marshes and swamps, they often avoid marine habitats along the east coast. This habitat is key to a Great Blue Heron’s diet because it mainly consists of fish. Their diet also includes frogs, salamanders, lizards, snakes, birds, small mammals, shrimp, crabs, crayfish, dragonflies, grasshoppers, and many other aquatic insects. Great Blue Herons locate their food by sight and usually swallow it whole.


Behavior/ Reproduction


Great blue herons breed throughout North and Central America, and the Caribbean. They nest in colonies up in trees or large bushes that stand near water. Within these rookeries, Great Blue Herons are extremely territorial and aggressively defend their nests. They breed once per year from the month of March through May in the northern parts of their range and from November through April in the southern parts of their range. They can lay from 2 to 7 eggs per season, with birds living further north tending to lay more eggs. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs and then, once the eggs are hatched, both parents care for and feed the chicks. Great blue heron chicks take from 60 to 82 days for it to fledge. After that, both the males and females of this species reach sexual or reproductive maturity at about 22 months of age.
 


photo Ivan Andrijevic


Where to see them in WNY

 

One good place to find the Great blue heron is on the Swallow Hollow Trail at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. From the parking lot, take the trail heading to the left. Be sure to begin looking once you reach the earthen dike; emergent marshes like this one are great habitats for these birds.
 

photo M. Noonan

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