Great Blue Heron

Hey guys welcome back! Today’s bird is the majestic great blue heron. The great blue heron is North America’s largest heron, and third largest heron species in the world behind the goliath heron (sometimes called the giant heron) of Africa, and the white-bellied heron of central Asia. Europe’s grey heron looks very similar, but is ever so slightly smaller. Great blue herons stand about 4-5 feet tall, and sport an impressive 6 foot wingspan. They are common, year-round residents throughout much of the US, found in marshes, streams, ponds, lakes, rivers, pretty much anywhere there’s fish nearby, though they will often eat smaller mammals like gophers.

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Great blue heron, Veteran’s Park, Mentor, OH

For much of my childhood, the great blue heron was the only heron I knew. I remember wading through the Grand and Chagrin Rivers in Northeast Ohio fishing with my dad and seeing them perched on the side of the river, or flying off with a loud squawk with slow, steady wingbeats. It’s an impressive sight for even the most seasoned of birders.

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Great blue heron coming in for a landing, Forest Park, St. Louis, MO

In extreme southern Florida, and parts of the Caribbean, there is an all white subspecies, dubbed the great white heron. Though all white like the smaller (but still sizable) great egret, the great white herons can be identified by their larger size, and yellowish legs (as opposed to the great egret’s dark legs.) Great blue herons also produce special feathers on their breast that fray and break apart easily. Dubbed “powder down,” these feather act as a sort of powder that the bird preens into its contour feathers to help keep oils and slime from the often swampy waters from sticking to them, keeping themselves clean and flight-ready! Pretty cool adaptation! Though their 6 foot wingspan is impressive, next time we’ll look at a bird with an even larger wingspan! Our first eagle species is up next! See you then!

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