The great blue heron prefers shallow coastal waters.

MARS MOMENT: What makes the heron great?

They are very visible along the shorelines of the Comox Valley and the Campbell River area

  • Apr. 30, 2013 3:00 p.m.

Elegant and graceful, great blue herons are one of nature’s most beautiful birds.

They are very visible along the shorelines of the Comox Valley and the Campbell River area.

The largest heron found in Canada, the great blue prefers shallow coastal waters, marshes, wetlands and river estuaries. Local populations are year round residents others will migrate south to Mexico and northern South American countries.

Great blue herons are tall, long-necked birds with a compact body, standing over a meter in height and weighing up to two-and-a-half kilograms. Long, fragile-looking legs stand on large splayed feet that are partially webbed allowing them to wade in water or walk on shallow vegetation.

These herons have the ability to stretch out their necks or point their heads at different angles to blend in with their environment. When flying, their necks double back to rest on their shoulders and their feet trail stretched out behind them.

Great blue herons have very distinct grey-blue plumage in the adults with white breasts streaked with black. They also have white cheek pouches and pale grey necks. During the breeding season the males grow long impressive slender trailing black feathers on their necks, breasts, flanks, and backs.

Masters of camouflage and patience, these herons are stealthy hunters, standing motionless, moving only their eyes as they wait for their prey to swim by.

Alternatively, they will silently stalk the unsuspecting food. Moving with great speed and agility the herons strike with their beaks to catch their prey. They do not impale their catch but use their beaks like a pair of tweezers snatching the fish out of the water before “tossing” it up to be consumed head first to easily pass down the throat. Although fish are one of the favorite food choices great blues will also dine on crustaceans, frogs, small rodents and other small aquatic creatures.

Great Blue Herons are unique nesters. The most obvious choice for nest would be in some kind of wetland similar to swans but, instead, these lanky birds prefer to build their nests in the tree tops, forming a “heronry or rookery.” Usually solitary birds, the breeding season brings dozens of birds together with the males choosing the nest site. Both birds will incubate the turquoise-blue eggs. Herons’ nests are very exposed and their successful breeding requires dedicated parents to guard the nest from predators, a task they share trying to deter attacks on the nest by ravens, crows and eagles.

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