herodias [ar' dE uh hir O' dE uhs]
The largest heron in North
America, the great blue stands 3-4 feet tall and
has a wingspan of almost 6 feet. It has blue-gray
feathers on most of its body. Adults sport
a shaggy ruff at the base of their necks and a
black eyebrow extends back to black plumes
emerging from the head. Juveniles have a dark
crown with no plumes or ruff, and a mottled neck.
An all-white color morph found in the Caribbean
and southern Florida is often called the great
white heron, but it is in fact the same species.
In flight, a Great Blue Heron typically holds
its head in toward its body with its neck bent.
The great blue heron breeds from southern
Canada south to the West Indies and Mexico. It
winters as far north as southern Alaska and
southern New England. It can also be found in the
Galapagos Islands. Northern populations east of
the Rockies are migratory, going to the
Caribbean, Central America, or northern South
America. Populations along the Pacific Coast may
be permanent residents, even as far north as
It inhabits a variety of habitats, with
marshes, rivers, lakes, salt water shores, and
ponds being the most common.
The great blue heron usually
stands in water and waits for prey to pass by
then grabs it with long bill. It also
forages on shore, from floating objects, and in
grassland. Fish make up a large part of the diet,
but salamanders, lizards, snakes,
shrimps, crabs, crayfish, insects, birds, and
small mammals are also taken.
This heron breeds in colonies, often of this
species alone, sometimes mixed with other wading
birds; rarely in isolated pairs. The male chooses
a nest site and displays there to attract a mate.
Displays include stretching the neck up with bill
pointing skyward, flying in circles above the
colony with neck extended, and stretching the
neck forward with head and neck feathers erected
and then snapping bill shut. Pairs are monogamous
during the breeding season, but split up after
the chicks are raised; new pairs are formed each
The nest site is highly variable, usually in
trees 20-60 feet above ground or water, but
sometimes in low shrubs, on ground (on
predator-free islands), or well above 100 feet in
a tree. The nest, which is built mostly by the
female with material gathered by the male, is a
platform of sticks, sometimes quite large.
The 3-7 pale blue eggs are incubated by both
parents for about a month. Both parents also
share in the feeding and care of the chicks,
which fledge at about 2 months and leave the nest
at about 3 months.
genus & species Ardea herodias
National Audubon Society http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/great-blue-heron
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