Species Spotlight: Great Blue Heron

July 28, 2010, 8:46 am

The great blue heron, North America's largest heron, is part of a family that also includes bitterns and egrets and closely resembles storks and cranes. Once hunted for its beautiful plumage, the great blue heron’s habitat now ranges from Alaska to Canada and south to the Caribbean and South America. While many members of the heron family are endangered due to habitat loss, the great blue heron is remarkable for its adaptability and its ability to flourish in many environments.

The great blue heron is unusually adaptive for a bird of its size, standing from three to five feet tall and boasting a wingspan between five and seven feet. These birds are often found in a range of habitats including fresh and saltwater marshes, mangrove swamps, flooded meadows and lake edges or shorelines. The migratory habits of blue herons vary based on their location. Herons that inhabit the Pacific coast maintain their residences year-round, while those that live east of the Rocky Mountains winter in Central and South America. Certain individual herons can still be found in northern climates during the winter months, as long as they are able to find a reliable food source.

Great blue herons are waders, and typically hunt while standing motionless in the water waiting for fish to swim close enough to catch. Once a heron spots a fish, it extends its large beak to grab the fish. Because of their size, great blue herons are able to feed in deeper waters where other birds cannot reach. Although herons hunt alone, they often breed in colonies called rookeries.

Fun Facts:

  • Herons locate their food by sight and usually swallow it whole. Great blue herons have been known to choke on prey that is too large to swallow.
  • Herons usually nest in trees or bushes along the water.
  • Female great blue herons lay 3-7 eggs in each clutch.
  • The great blue heron has an average lifespan of 15 years.