I have spent a good portion of my adult life watching birds and trying to discover the exact locations of the birds I am looking for. This has been the trickiest part of my passion, but as most birders know, when we finally do track down a particular bird it can be so rewarding. Lately, there has been one feathered friend in particular that I’ve been tracking down, for I feel a peculiar connection to it. Perhaps it is because we are both fisherman—or in my quarry’s case, fisherbird. I am talking about the majestic great blue heron.
Whenever I am lucky enough to see a great blue heron I am usually fishing. I feel as if we are both in competition to catch the next “big one” and of course, I usually lose.
A sneaky, confident and loud beauty
I was often out fishing with my dad when I was younger, and one day I was sitting on the edge of our favorite river trying to get a trout to take the bait. All of the sudden, I heard an almost prehistoric-sounding, loud croaking noise. I looked next to me and there he was, the great blue. It was almost as tall as me and only about three feet away. I could not believe that a bird that big had gotten that close to me without me hearing it. Great blue herons are sneaky.
That was my first encounter with this stunning species. It was also the start of my passion for bird watching. Great blue heron was my “spark bird.”
To this day, I’m still amazed that such a big bird can be so hard to spot. Even though it is the largest and most common heron in North America, I feel like it is one of the more elusive birds. Perhaps it is because they remain stationary for such long periods of time in cattails and tall grass.
It is really fun to watch a great blue heron fish. Every movement is calculated. From the long, slow steps, to standing as still as a statue in wait for the next catch.
They have evolved in their environment so that their sharp beaks are perfect for catching their prey. The “S” shape of their neck serves two purposes: aerodynamics, and for quick strikes at passing prey. It is amazing how quickly the great blue heron can locate a fish and capture it. Sometimes, though, the bird’s eyes are too big for its stomach. Herons are known to choke to death on fish they’ve swallowed that are too big for their throat.
The great blue heron also dines on insects, gophers, mice, frogs, snakes, and even other birds, such as ducklings and bitterns.
My Holy Grail
On one bird-watching trip, I stumbled across a rookery of herons. In the wild, heron’s prefer to be by themselves, but they nest in groups. I walked into a clearing and looked up at a tree after hearing that telltale croaking call I heard when I was little. I was shocked to see several large nests populated by great blue herons up in a dead tree. This was one of the greatest moments in my bird-watching experience, especially since it happened unexpectedly.
It is amazing to see a bird that stands around four feet tall with a six- to seven-foot wingspan in a tree. Their nests are intricate, and their eggs are beautiful; light blue and smaller than you’d think.
Most birders, either casual or avid, have a favorite bird to “stalk.” It is the little things that make it so, like finding a rookery or having one sneak up on you during a fishing trip. Those are the experiences that make people into bird watchers.
Mine just happened to be the great blue heron, what’s yours?
About the Author
Ernie Allison loves birds of all shapes and sizes, but his favorites are the great blue heron and the ruby-throated hummingbird. In his spare time he writes for Birdfeeders.com and spends time in nature with his two grandchildren.