Species Profile: Great Blue Heron

Given the abundance of them around here, it is only appropriate we learn a bit about them. That way, perhaps next time someone points one out to you, you can draw on this plethora of facts and be seen as the Heron Expert; after all, isn’t that what we all want to be?

Great Blue Herons are large wading birds, and can be found near wetlands (and the shores of open water) over most of North and Central America. To be blunt: these birds are massive. They can grow in height to 138cm, with an astonishing wingspan of 201cm. Incredibly, they tend to reach a maximum weight of only 7.9 lb, emphasizing just how built they are for flying. If their large size doesn’t given them away, they can further be distinguished with some typical characteristics: a rusty-gray neck, red-brown thighs, a dull yellowish-orange bill, and a nearly white face. Alternatively, if you are near a water source and see a bird in flight with a wingspan larger than that of a pterodactyl, you can assume with relative confidence that it is a Great Blue Heron.

Great Blue Herons have a harsh croak call, whose sound can be heard here. They are an incredibly adaptable species, capable of thriving in nearly any wetland habitat. Typical habitats include fresh and saltwater marshes, mangrove swamps, flooded meadows, lake edges, shorelines, or even in heavily developed areas as long as a body of water containing fish is present. If you are going birdwatching, they typically nest in trees near the water’s edge, and have a tendency to favour islands for their isolation. 

Despite their massive size, there is no need to panic: they won’t eat you. Their primary diet is small fish; however, depending on scarcity, they will consume shrimp, crab, insects, rodents, and other small mammals and amphibians. As Great Blue Herons generally swallow their food whole, the size of its prey is rather limited. Typically, Great Blue Herons forage in shallow waters less than 50cm deep (hence their preference for wetlands). 

If you’d like to see some herons, you live in a place incredibly easy to do so. Go visit your local wetlands and you should be able to spot one. Great Blue Herons tend to be most vocal during their breeding season between March and May, so it is likely you will hear them if you are near a wetland in the spring season. Nothing left to do now, other than go appreciate your wetlands and the habitats they provide (especially for these larger-than-pterodactyl birds)!

The herodias subspecies and the fannini subspecies of Great Blue Heron are on the Blue list, and are species of special concern.

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