Great Blue Herons are a large species of aquatic bird. This species of heron lives in North America, from southern Canada to Mexico. They are tall, with long curved necks and long pointed beaks. Though their name has “blue” in it, they are actually more of a slate gray color. Read on to learn about the Great Blue Heron.
Description of the Great Blue Heron
The “great” in this species’ name refers to their large size. They stand four and a half feet tall, and weigh up to five pounds. Like all herons, they have long legs, slender, curved necks, and long, pointed beaks.
Though they spend much of their time standing in shallow water, they are more than capable of flight. Their wingspan is nearly seven feet across!
Interesting Facts About the Great Blue Heron
This heron is an imposing species. They are tall, agile, and impressive predators. Learn more about these birds below.
- Interspecies Relationships – Even though they rarely interact, Great Blue Herons are one of the many different species that benefit from beavers living in an area. Beaver dams flood large patches of land, creating additional swamps and wetlands. This new habitat is perfect for Great Blue Herons and other aquatic creatures.
- Snakelike – Just like anhingas and cormorants, herons have slender, snake-like necks. These actually function quite similarly to snakes. When the bird spots a fish, it strikes out its curved neck, just like a snake strikes. This motion allows them to quickly snag prey.
- Fishermen’s Friend – Though it might sound counterintuitive, Great Blue Herons are not actually detrimental to fishermen or fish hatcheries. This is primarily because the vast majority of the fish that the herons catch are those floating near the surface. Fish that float near the surface are frequently sick or injured, and not good for human consumption.
- Big Bird, Small Weight – For a bird that stands over four feet tall and has wingspan that is nearly seven feet across, Great Blue Herons don’t weigh very much. Their light weight is important, because heavy birds have a difficult time flying. In fact, the vast majority of flying birds have hollow bones for just this reason.
Habitat of the Great Blue Heron
These birds have a great affinity to water. When birdwatchers spot Great Blue Herons, the birds are usually creeping through the shallows of mangroves, rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, and marshes.
The vast majority of Great Blues prefer inhabiting fresh or brackish water environments rather than saltwater. However, while they are nesting, they must have tall trees to build their nests in.
Distribution of the Great Blue Heron
This species lives in different regions based on the current season, though they do live in some areas year-round. They typically only inhabit the northernmost portions of their range in Canada during the breeding season in spring and summer.
They live throughout the United States year-round, as well as most of Mexico, and the westernmost coasts of Canada and Alaska. Their range also sometimes extends into Central America and the northern coasts of South America as well.
Diet of the Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Herons have a much wider diet than the vast majority of other aquatic birds. They eat fish, shrimp, frogs, crabs, and other crustaceans, but they also hunt a variety of other small animals.
Some of their non-aquatic prey includes lizards, small birds, rodents, grasshoppers, and a variety of other insects. Their hunting technique is wading quietly through shallow waters, and using their long beak to quickly spear or snag prey.
Great Blue Heron and Human Interaction
Because they eat fish, these herons cross paths with humans quite frequently. Fishermen and fishery owners view them as competition. However, the destruction of their wetland habitats is the most pressing danger to this species. Thankfully, the birds are widespread and common, so habitat destruction causes minimal population loss. The IUCN lists this species as Least Concern.
Humans have not domesticated this species in any way.
Does the Great Blue Heron Make a Good Pet
No, Great Blue Herons do not make good pets. They are quite large, and require a varied diet that most people cannot provide them. It is also illegal to capture, own, or harm a Great Blue Heron in any way.
Great Blue Heron Care
In the wild, Great Blues frequently have run-ins with humans, which end in the birds getting injured. They become entangled in fishing line, or hooks become embedded in their beaks or flesh. They also accidentally fly into power lines.
All of these injuries can potentially result in the bird not being able to survive in the wild. These birds find homes in zoos and aquariums, where they live in enclosures with plenty of shallow water to wade in, and lots of fish to eat.
Behavior of the Great Blue Heron
These birds are usually solitary. They stalk through shallow waters in search of food, and hunt alone. Most of their activity occurs during the day, or at sunset, but they do hunt for prey at night as well.
Though they are solitary, these birds congregate in large numbers to reproduce. Breeding birds all nest in a common area called a “rookery.”
Reproduction of the Great Blue Heron
This heron species picks one partner per season, and both parents raise the chicks. However, they usually change partners each mating season, rather than returning to the same mate. The female lays between three and five eggs in a large nest made of sticks, and both parents incubate the eggs.
It takes about a month for the eggs to hatch, and another two months for the chicks to begin flying. The chicks do not begin to breed until they are around two years old.