February 2013 Bird Photo of the Month

Let me get that itch! © Karen Schuster
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

What a grand nest! The Great Blue Heron likes the penthouse: the tops of trees, overlooking bodies of either salt or fresh waters where they feed solitarily. Noticeable to even non-birders by their size, Great Blue Herons are the most adaptable, most-recognized and widespread herons in North America.

Great Blue Herons often reuse nests for many years, although they choose new mates each year. The nest is rebuilt when they come into breeding plumage (brighter colors, two head plumes and billowing body and back plumes). Nesting most often in colonies alongside other long-legged waders and pelicans, it is the male that brings in sticks for the female to build the bulky nest that she often lines with pine needles or moss.

She will lay 3-7 pale green eggs once a year unless the nest is destroyed or abandoned; if so, she may lay a replacement clutch. Humans getting too close or disturbing nesting areas may lead to nest failure and abandonment of eggs or chicks – stay 300 feet away from all nests. For about a month during incubation, and 6 weeks after hatching, parenting is shared: males tend the nest and fledglings during the day and the females take over at night. With specialized night vision, Great Blue Herons are able to forage for fish and other small animals 24/7, taking regurgitated food to place directly in the most aggressive chick’s open mouth. Learning to fly at 8 weeks and by 10 the juveniles leave the nest, as well as their parents, to survive on their own.

Karen Schuster, with her Canon 50D with 70-200 mm lens, photographed the heron as it raised its foot in midair showing the heron’s unique “pectinated (comb-like) third toe nail” stretched out to scratch its long neck with suitably matching long legs.

Juanita Baker, Coordinator
Florida Bird Photo of the Month
Pelican Island Audubon

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