Great Blue Heron
GREAT BLUE HERON
In the wetland, the misty wetland, the heron hunts, day and night. Probably not as catchy as song lyrics as those about the mighty jungle and the sleeping lion, and the heron’s voice itself is anything but melodic, but a great blue heron standing stock still at the edge of a lake or pond completes a scene of quiet beauty. Maine is not a state with too many commonly seen heron species. The great blue heron, the largest and frequently the most typically spotted of all herons in many places, is a notable visitor to the watershed especially as the summer progresses and more shallow shoreline is revealed.
With a height of nearly four feet and, when flying, a wingspan of six feet, this is a large bird but often you have to really be looking carefully because its gray and white plumage can blend in well with the colors along the water’s edge. And of course, it rarely moves when it’s fishing, and then to rapidly strike at prey with its long, pointy bill. This weapons-grade appendage has been clocked at 90 miles per hour! In the air, it coils its long neck back toward its body but with legs and feet outstretched and slow, lumbering flight, it is readily distinguished between other large birds such as ospreys and eagles and also sandhill cranes which do live in parts of Maine.
On the lake, a hunting heron can be spotted on the bog side of aptly-named Bog Bridge, especially in late summer when they disperse from their breeding areas. You are not likely to hear its raspy croaking call which is typically heard more on their breeding grounds, a communal rookery on an island or other isolated watery environment. To hear recordings please go to https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Great_Blue_Heron/sounds) What are they hunting? Almost anything, from frogs to fish, from snakes to small birds, from mice to mayflies. Larger fish can actually be impaled on the beak before being subdued by shaking and then swallowed. Their exceptional eyesight permits hunting even in darkness, something that has been noted by
volunteers for the on-going initiative tracking individuals using transmitters. You can follow these Maine birds in their southward migration as well as see some great photos at this Facebook site https://www.facebook.com/maineheron/
Usually not thought to be a bird species of concern, in Maine recently they are in the sights and talons – of bald eagles. Especially at the breeding colonies, the appearance of an eagle can mean the end of the colony. The herons leave and in many cases do not come back. Eagles’ traditional food sources – fish, primarily ocean fish – are in decline, so the birds are feeding on
alternate prey. Alas, great blue herons are on that growing list.
Keep your eye out for herons late into the fall when they still might haunt the quiet gray waters that are not ice-bound. Leaves may be down, emergent vegetation brown, and the wetland is otherwise in winter mode. It’s always nice to be reminded of our summer residents and look forward to returning green and blue seasons by the lake!