Great Blue Heron
by Alex Forsythe
The Great Blue Heron is the largest heron in North America. It has been documented eating a wide variety of prey from fish and frogs to gophers and birds. This varied diet allows the Great Blue to winter further north than most herons, even in locations where the water freezes completely. They breed in rookeries which can have 75 nests or more. The Nanjemoy Creek rookery in Maryland boasts over 1,100 nests! Rookeries of almost 400 nests have been reported in Indiana.
Gene Stratton-Porter was rather fond of herons. They appear frequently in her writings. In “Homing with the Birds” she admired the heron’s mating dance: "I have seen a few measures of the stately dance a blue heron executes for the charming of his beloved." In “Laddie”, when describing her idea of the idyllic location, she included the solemn herons: "Crossing our meadow there was a stream that had grassy banks, big trees, willows, bushes and vines for shade, a solid pebbly bed; it was all turns and bends so that the water hurried until it bubbled and sang as it went; in it lived tiny fish colored brightly as flowers, beside it ran killdeer, plover, and solemn blue herons almost as tall as I was came from the river to fish; for a place to play on an August afternoon, it couldn’t be beaten".
It is difficult not to love and respect the Great Blue Heron. It has a distinctive look and is easily identifiable to even the most novice birder. It stands so very still, like a beautiful statue, for long periods of time patiently watching and listening to its surroundings. When it moves, it has an elegant, purposeful stride. When it flies, it uses such slow, powerful wingstrokes, yet it seems to fly effortlessly across the sky.
While Great Blue Herons are fascinating to watch, as a wildlife rescuer who deals with everything from Cedar Waxwings to Great Horned Owls, I must caution anyone who happens upon an injured Great Blue Heron. They may not be raptors, but they can be deadly. Herons rarely understand that you are there to assist them and they will defend themselves with their only weapon: that long, sharp spear mounted to the front of their face! If you do not take the proper precautions, that bill can pierce through your eyes or temples. Always call an experienced wildlife rehabilitator if you encounter a heron that needs assistance.
I’ll leave you with this bit of wisdom: “Advice from a Great Blue Heron: wade into life; keep a keen lookout; don’t be afraid to get your feet wet; be patient; look below the surface; enjoy a good reed; and go fish!”