By: Colleen Dabrowski
Photo by: Anna Gombert
Forest Findings has got a treat for you this week! The elusive Great Blue Heron that frequents the Drew University Zuck Arboretum ponds has been photographed by Co-Editor in Chief Anna Gombert. The Great Blue Heron or Ardea herodias is the most common and the largest of the North American herons, according to National Geographic. The herons are quite tall, averaging 3 feet to 4.5 feet–that is up to the chest of a 6 foot tall man. To account for their large height, the herons have a large wingspan. Their wings can spread from 5.5 feet to 6.6 feet. These massive wings allow them to coast mid-flight at speeds of twenty to thirty miles per hour. The herons weigh anywhere from 4.6 pounds to 7.3 pounds. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes the Great Blue Herons as having “subtle blue-grey plumage” with two-toned colorations on the upper wing.
According to National Geographic, Great Blue Herons are known as “waders”. They are proficient fishers who hunt their prey either by standing very still in the water or by walking slowly through the water and waiting for a fish to swim in range of their long necks and sharp bills. Though they are best known as fishers, they also eat other small creatures such as mice and insects. Great Blue Herons swallow their prey whole, so it is not uncommon for them to die from choking on a meal that’s too large to swallow. As they are mostly aquatic hunters, their habitats include shorelines, marshes, ponds and streams.
A group of Great Blue Herons is called a colony. Though they hunt alone, the birds tend to nest in such groups in either tall trees or low shrubs. Both parents are involved in the rearing of young and mothers lay from two to seven eggs about once a year. By two months of age, the chicks can survive independently of their parents.
There is a variety of Great Blue Heron that is sometimes called the Great White Heron due to its all-white coloration. Interestingly, this variation has only been reported in the Caribbean and southern Florida. The Great Blue Heron is of least concern for extinction and currently has populations on the rise in all habitats. However, the Audubon Field Guide reports that they are becoming increasingly difficult to spot due to human disturbances of their nesting areas.