Species Spotlight on the Great Blue Heron at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
by Shannah Cumberbatch
Person A: Do you see it?
Person B: See what?
A: A Great Blue Heron is trying to catch a fish right there.
B: Where? I don’t see it!
A: It’s right there! *points excitedly*
B: Right where? I still don’t see it!
This conversation is a very familiar one. Great Blue Herons are well known for their ability to stand completely still while waiting to strike at a passing fish in the water. These birds have long, skinny legs resembling twigs or spindly branches, making it easier for them to sneak up on unsuspecting prey items. Great blue herons have a diet that primarily consists of fish, but these birds will eat anything they can get their beaks on! You will find them feeding on frogs, turtles, salamanders, snakes, insects, small mammals, and even other water birds.
Standing up to 4.5 feet tall with a 6.5-foot wingspan, these Triassic-looking birds have piercing yellow eyes. Despite their large size, they only weigh 5 to 6 pounds due to their hollow bones, a characteristic all birds share. Have you ever seen one in flight and suddenly lost it among the trees? Well, great blue herons nest high up in the trees. Males collect most of the nesting material, using nearby shrubbery and tree branches to build the nest. Females, on average, lay 2-6 eggs in a given brood. Those eggs will hatch after 27-29 days, and the birds will fledge (leave) the nest after 1.5 to 2.5 months.
The Great Blue Heron is the largest heron in North America. There are many water birds similar to herons. Take, for example, this roseate spoonbill that created quite the buzz when it stopped along the Anacostia River in early August. This bird was such a rare sighting that birders flocked to the area in hopes of catching a glimpse and photographing this brightly colored bird. As migratory birds start to head back south, the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens will be a popular stopping point for many of them. Be on the lookout for herons and other water birds to appear at the park as we head into the cooler months.