Species of the Month: Great blue heron (December, 2022)

December 31, 2022

The Great blue heron is a majestic bird known for its impressive size and unique physical characteristics.
Defining Characteristics:
- Stands over 1 meter tall
- Weighs approximately 2.5 kilograms - these birds are the largest heron species in Canada!
- The length of its limbs influences its movements, allowing it to fly with slow, deep wing beats and walk with long strides on land or in the water.
- In flight, the neck is doubled back, the head rests on the shoulders, and the legs are held straight behind.
- Adults have a white head with black stripes on either side extending from its yellow eyes to black plumes at the back of its head.
- Greyish blue back and its breast are white with black streaks.
- Breeding herons have long plumes on their breasts, flanks, and backs, and males are typically larger than females.
- Juvenile Great blue herons have grey crowns and grey wings with brown flecks and lack plumes. Adults have brighter colors during breeding season, shed some plumes in summer, and become duller in color in winter.
Habitat and behaviour:
Great blue herons can be found in marine coastal habitats, freshwater and on islands or wooded swamps to avoid predators.
While some herons may choose to nest alone, many of these birds live in colonies numbering anywhere from dozens to hundreds of nesting pairs! It is not fully understood why these birds choose to live in colonies, but it is thought that there may be several benefits to this behavior. For example, living in a colony may provide better protection for the nests and young, as there are more birds to defend against potential predators. Additionally, living in a colony may increase the chances of finding a good food source, as once one heron discovers a good foraging spot, others may follow it to the same location.
Their diet consists primarily of fish, amphibians, insects, and other small animals.
Did you know?
- Great blue herons replace their feathers, four times during their first two years of life!
- They can live for up to 17 years.
- They can fly up to 55 kilometres per hour!
great blue heron