Page 137 - A Field Guide to Fairfax County's Plants and Wildlife
P. 137
at Blue Heron

(Ardea herodias)


These large wading birds stand 1 to 1.4
meters tall with wingspans of 1.7 to 2
meters. Look for the yellow sword-like
bill, a white face and crown, and two
long black plumes on the back of the head. The shaggy body is bluish-gray.
Great Blue Herons utter a variety of squawks and calls during the breeding
season, but are otherwise mostly silent. The male gathers sticks which the
female uses to build a nest, usually in a tree. The female lays two to six eggs
which both parents take turns incubating. After the eggs hatch, both parents
feed the young. Chicks are born blind and helpless, and take two months to
mature. As fall approaches, some Great Blue Herons drift south toward Florida
and the Gulf of Mexico. However, they’re not truly migratory, and some spend
the winter in our area, or even further north, if they can find open water.

Distribution and Habitat

Great Blue Herons live year-round Great Blue Herons can choke to

in all five physiographic provinces in death if they try to swallow fish too

all kinds of saltwater and freshwater big for their long skinny necks!

habitats, from coastal areas,

estuaries, wetlands, riverbanks and These herons form large nesting

lakes to backyard fish ponds. They colonies during the breeding season.

also hunt for prey in grasslands and With more than 1,400 nests, the

agricultural fields. Great Blue Heron colony at Mason

Neck National Wildlife Refuge in

Role in Food Web Fairfax County is the largest in the

Great Blue Herons eat fish, frogs, Mid-Atlantic.

small mammals, reptiles, crayfish,

large insects and occasionally other

birds. They are often seen wading

or standing statue-like on the shores of rivers, ponds and lakes. When they

spot their prey, they strike quickly by uncoiling their long S-shaped neck like a

spring. Eggs and young are preyed upon by snakes, foxes and birds of prey.

r 133 r
   132   133   134   135   136   137   138   139   140   141   142