Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

Often mistaken for a crane, the great blue heron can be distinguished in flight by the position of its neck. Herons fly with their necks folded, while cranes hold theirs outstretched.

Description:

This large bird reaches a height of up to 115 cm, with males and females similar in appearance. It is easily recognized by its slate blue upperparts and white head with distinctive black, backswept plumes. The front of its neck is white with black streaks; it has a long yellow bill, and long dark legs. Its winter plumage is similar to its breeding plumage except its head plumes are absent and its bill is more yellow.

Distribution:

The great blue heron breeds throughout the United States, Mexico, southern Canada, and the Pacific coast as far north as Alaska. In winter, its range is reduced to the west coast, the southern United States, and Mexico.

Ecology:

The great blue heron is monogamous. It nests in colonies in marshes and swamps, and on lakes and rivers. The large nests are usually built in trees, and nest height varies from 2 to 35 m. However, some nests can also be found in shrubs, on rock ledges, or on the ground. A typical nest is made from sticks, and is lined with leaves or conifer needles. Three to five, light blue-green eggs are laid, and incubated by both parents for nearly a month. Upon hatching, the young are immobile and downy, with open eyes. They are fed by both parents for 7 or 8 weeks, at which point they become independent.

Great blue herons tend to forage in deeper water than other herons. They eat mostly small and medium-sized fresh- or salt-water fish, amphibians, and aquatic invertebrates, but have also been observed foraging for small mammals, and feeding opportunistically on human food waste, and on nestlings and adults of other bird species. The young are fed almost exclusively on fish, and require as many calories a day as a small woman!