Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron
Photo by: 
Brian Vorhees

Very few non-feeder species of birds are more recognized than the Great Blue Heron. Whether in flight or standing majestically along the shore of a body of water, everyone knows of this huge bird.

While they may know of this bird, it still amazes me how many people don’t know its correct name. I cannot emphasize this enough - it is not a CRANE! While cranes are tall birds, they are in a completely different family of birds. Cranes are very social and are generally seen in groups, while herons are solitary in nature.

While they are solitary in their foraging, they are community nesters. We know of several “rookeries” in our area where Great Blue Heron nests can be seen in a large stand of trees. The number of nests can vary but there are usually at least a dozen. One we check on every spring before the leaves fill out is on the Leavenworth side of the Missouri River. It can be seen from the platform overlook at Weston Bend State Park.

Great blues grab your attention when you see them in flight. I can’t help but blurt out “Pterodactyl” when I see one slowly fly past. Their broad wings, coiled neck and legs trailing out behind them make for a truly unmistakable profile. The crooked neck is a clear separator from cranes as well who fly with their necks straight out.

These herons are amazing predators. They strike with such speed and accuracy, few frogs, snakes, fish, crayfish, small mammals or water birds stand a chance against them. I have seen them swallow fish much larger than I would have thought they could ever fit down their skinny throats.

You can look for these beautiful birds most of the year as they tend to only leave during the harshest part of winter and quickly return as soon as there is open water to hunt.

By Mark McKellar