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Birdwatching: Watch and listen for our large resident herons

By Dr. Madeline A. Kalbach

For the Observer

Published on October 20, 2017 10:19AM

A great blue came in for a landing in a dry field to forage for its supper.

MADELINE KALBACH PHOTO

A great blue came in for a landing in a dry field to forage for its supper.

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Great blue herons forage in aquatic habitats as well as on dry land. This heron seems to be thinking about where best to find a tasty morsel.

MADELINE KALBACH PHOTO

Great blue herons forage in aquatic habitats as well as on dry land. This heron seems to be thinking about where best to find a tasty morsel.

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A female great blue heron waited for her mate to bring her more sticks so she could finish off their platform nest.

MADELINE KALBACH PHOTO

A female great blue heron waited for her mate to bring her more sticks so she could finish off their platform nest.

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A heron carried nesting materials back to its mate.

MADELINE KALBACH PHOTO

A heron carried nesting materials back to its mate.

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The largest and heaviest of all herons live with us year round. It is a colonial nester on the Peninsula and is always in our midst. The great blue heron can’t be missed at any time of the year on the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge.

It is one of our most common herons. If you were to take a close look at Willapa Bay off Leadbetter Point right now or along Willapa Bay as you travel U.S. Highway 101 toward the refuge headquarters, you would see many of them actively feeding in the bay. They can feed here because they have long necks and legs which facilitate their ability to forage in aquatic habitats. Great blue herons are carnivorous, so their bills are adapted for spearing and grasping prey. A heron will eat almost any live prey including small mammals such as voles, but their favorites are small fish, amphibians, crustaceans and other invertebrates.

Because the great blue heron mainly forages in aquatic habitats, it generally nests near wetlands. However, it also can be seen foraging in open, dry, grassy fields. Herons often mix with other herons of their species when feeding, but if food is prevalent in an area, they don’t hesitate to mix with other species.

Great blue herons nest quite high in trees and in colonies. Nests are made of sticks which the male brings to the chosen spot where the female awaits because she is the nest builder. In gathering material for nest building males are not above pirating material from another nest, and some birds will often reuse an old nest. Both parents incubate the eggs, and they generally have only one brood. Parents are monogamous, but only seasonally.

The great blue heron has a wingspan of about 7 feet and is around four and a half feet in body length. Its voice is a hoarse croaking or trumpeting. You may hear the hoarse croaking when the bird is in flight or when it is expressing aggression! The great blues seem to be loud right now. A startled heron disturbed by another great blue or a hiker walking along the edge of Willapa Bay will trumpet and croak loudly as it takes off to find another feeding spot.

Bird behavior is most interesting. Right now is an excellent time to witness the foraging behavior of the great blue heron. So grab your binoculars and go down to the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge on Willapa Bay. You will be in for a treat and you will definitely be entertained!







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