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What is a Great Blue Heron?

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  • Written By: Carol Kindle
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
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  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2016
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The great blue heron (Ardea herodias) is a large water bird that is known for wading into shallow waters in search of food. This grayish-blue heron is the largest of the heron species and is found in North American fresh and salt water habitats. Rivers, lakes, and swamps from Canada to South America serve as home for these herons. They can also be found along Atlantic and Pacific coastal ocean waters.

Plentiful around the water, these herons are hard to miss. They stand up to four feet (122 cm) tall and they have long, spindly legs. Their oval-shaped bodies are covered in wispy gray feathers. As large as they appear, their body weight is only five to eight pounds (2.2 to 3.6 kg). They have long, s-shaped necks with thin, yellow, spear-like beaks.

These long beaks serve the great blue heron well as it hunts for food. Walking very slowly by lifting one leg in front of the other, the heron positions itself at the edge of the water. Because it has such long legs, it is able to wade several feet into the water. Once in position, the heron leans forward to get a view of the fish beneath the surface.

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It stands motionless waiting for a fish to approach and then it strikes very quickly to catch its prey. Once the fish is in its beak, the heron will flip it into a head-first position and swallow it whole. In addition to fish, the heron living close to shore may feed on frogs, crabs, shrimp, or even ducklings. On land the heron may hunt for mice, lizards, rats, and insects.

Proximity to their food source usually determines where the male and female great blue heron will make their nest for the season. Made up of sticks and twigs, the nests are usually in very tall trees high above any predators. Males and females are monogamous for the season and often return to the same nest from the previous season. The female can lay up to six eggs each season and these eggs will hatch in about 28 days. Both parents will take turns watching over the eggs and feeding the chicks.

For birdwatchers who wish to observe the great blue heron, it is wise to creep up slowly and remain very still. If the heron is disturbed or angered, it will make a low deep squawking noise. It may then take flight and look for another feeding area. The heron has quite a large wingspan that can range up to six feet (183 cm). Its size and wingspan make the great blue heron spectacular to watch.

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