The Long and Short of It

I admire herons, herons of all sorts. They have a stately posture, epitomize patience, and have bright eyes that can stare down anyone. My recent trip to Florida had lots of heron highlights. Here I report on the long and short of it, Great Blue Herons and Green Herons.

Standing four feet tall with a wing span of six feet, Great Blue Herons are among our largest birds, even though they weigh in at only 5 or 6 pounds. I was surprised to see them already nesting at Viera Wetlands. In fact, a volunteer said that they were re-nesting, as a recent storm had destroyed several nests that already had eggs. I have seen nesting colonies in NC that were in tall dead trees in swamps, but the ones at Viera were on top of palm trees out in the wetlands.

Great Blue Heron pair at nest silhouette

Great Blue Heron nesting pair at Viera Wetlands

The herons were sitting quietly on their nests early in the day, but as the sun got higher, the male flew off and began collecting sticks. He would drop down to a broken branch laying on the ground and inspect it, before twisting off a section and flying back to the nest. Occasionally, a male would go to an unoccupied nest and steal a stick to take back to his mate.

GBH flying into nest with sticks

Male Great Blue Heron flying into nest with a stick

Great Blue Heron arriving at nest with sticks 1 Great Blue Heron arriving at nest with sticks 3 Great Blue Heron arriving at nest with sticks

Once he lands, he presents the stick to the female, and she accepts it (not sure what happens if she doesn’t like a stick).

Great Blue Heron arriving at nest with sticks 5

Female heron inspects the stick brought to the nest by her mate

She occasionally simply plucked the stick from him without standing up and carefully placed it in the nest. He would then fly off for another. At other times, there was more ceremony involved, with both birds stretching and bill pointing before she accepted the stick. Must have been a really good stick!

Great Blue Heron arriving at nest with sticks 4

Great Blue Heron pair with stick at nest 1

Great Blue Heron pair with stick at nestA few times there was a wing stretch display involved in the stick transfer, and often there would be a prolonged period of neck stretching and bill pointing.

Wing stretch display

Wing stretch display

Great Blue Heron pair at nest

Bill pointing and neck stretch display

The stick ferry finally ended for the morning and I walked down the border of the wetland dike. Soon I found one of the many diminutive Green Herons I saw on the trip. Green Herons are one of our smallest herons, standing only 18 inches tall with neck outstretched, and have a wing span of 26 inches (about one third that of a Great Blue Heron). They are found in freshwater swamps and marshes throughout the eastern half of the U.S. and up the west coast. Green Herons are richly colored in shades of chestnut, dark glossy green, and streaks of beige and white.

Green Heron on dried reeds

Green Herons are richly colored when viewed up close

They have piercing eyes and are slow motion stalkers of fish and other aquatic organisms at the edge of marshy areas and open beds of wetland vegetation. Green Herons are one of the few birds known to use tools to hunt. They have been observed using twigs, feathers, and other objects to create “fishing lures”. They drop the object on the water surface, luring small fish to within striking distance.

Green Heron profile

Hunting in a stand of reeds

Green Heron in pennywort bed

Green Heron hunting in bed of Marsh Pennywort

Often, as I prepared to get a shot of one that had momentarily stepped out in the open, it would raise its crest feathers and jump out in pursuit of a nearby Green Heron that had escaped my notice. I’m not sure if these were territorial interactions over food, breeding territory, or both.

Green Heron raised crest 1

Green Heron with raised crest

This display was usually accompanied by a neck stretch designed to make this tiny marsh hunter appear bigger.

Green Heron with neck stretched

Green Heron with neck stretched

Both species are a joy to watch, and I have decided that time spent with herons, short or tall, is time well spent.

Green Heron preening

Green Heron twisting itself while preening

3 thoughts on “The Long and Short of It

  1. Mike, you have crowned off my great day with these stunning heron images. Its so rare to get to see them nesting. Thank you. Nita

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