| Apr 10, 2008

Outdoors - April 10, 2008

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Outdoors in the LandO'Lakes - April 10, 2008 The Great Blue Heron Outdoors in the Land O'Lakes byLorraine Julien

When a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) arrived in our bay last week (east end of Kashwakamak Lake), I was so surprised and glad to see him that I knew he would be the subject of my column this week. At the time, it seemed as though all of our lake was frozen over with loads of snow on top of the ice. There is, however, a little spring fed creek near the shoreline and I’ve noticed a lot of birds and animals use it in the winter months and especially in early spring. I was always under the impression that migratory water birds such as ducks, loons, and herons would follow the lakes northward as they thaw under the spring sunshine but this fellow must have been anxious to stake out his territory.

Although I’ve noticed a small colony of nests in a swamp on the east side of Highway 41, north of Kaladar, I haven’t noticed any nests in the area where I live. Great Blues like to nest in trees where the nests are almost invisible until fall when the leaves are gone, unless the nests are in dead trees in swamps as in this case. Apparently some colonies can be very large with up to 500 nests per colony (heronry) – the average, though, being about 160 nests.

The Great Blue is an adaptable wading bird with a voracious appetite. Its large size enables it to feed on a variety of prey from large fish (its favourite) and frogs, to mice, insects, snakes and crustaceans. In urban areas it may even feed in backyard ponds where there may be tasty morsels such as goldfish. This wide choice of food enables it to range farther north during the winter than other species, wherever there is open water, although such lingering birds may fall prey to severe weather. Herons locate their food by sight and usually swallow it whole. Some have been known to choke to death when they’ve tried to eat prey that is too large.

It is a migratory bird whose range extends over most of North and Central America and even as far south as the Galapagos Islands and the West Indies. In Canada, in particular, it is quite common in Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec and Nova Scotia, obviously areas where there is a lot of water.

Description: From head to toe it can measure anywhere from 39” to 52” with a wingspan of up to 71”. It can weigh up to 8 lbs. It is blue gray overall with a nearly white face and a pair of black plumes running from just above the eye to the back of the head. The bill is a dull yellow but it briefly becomes orange near the start of the breeding season. It is often mistaken for a crane but this heron flies with its neck folded, not extended like that of a crane. Its call is a harsh squawk.

It is intriguing to watch these birds stalk their prey as they lift each foot stealthily from the shallows without a ripple. They can stand motionless for half an hour or more until a hapless victim comes by. On many a peaceful summer evening, I’ve watched our resident heron slowly walk through driftwood and deadheads along the shore line. They blend in with their habitat so well that it is easy to drift by in a canoe and not even see them unless they suddenly move.

Please feel free to report any observations to to Steve Blight at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Lorraine Julien at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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