The great blue heron (or to its friends, Ardea Herodias) is the biggest heron in North America (among others including the green heron, black-crowned night heron, yellow-crowned night heron and the tri-colored heron.) Despite the name, it is most often a slate blue-grey, with bits of darker and lighter plumage. Unlike raptors, the males are bigger than the females – and can stand 4-1/2 feet tall. They are typically svelte – weighing from 6-8 lbs and having a BMI of less than 1.8 (whereas most people are in the 25 neighborhood.)
They are elegant in flight with a broad wingspan, and can cruise at 30 mph. You can occasionally see them in or above Central Park – most often around the Pond (just north of the Plaza Hotel) or above the North Woods. They hang out at the borders of lakes, marshes and wetlands, both saline and fresh.
Their habitat covers the US (and points south) although they mostly go to Canada to mate – perhaps for privacy. They have a dating ritual involving the female singing and the male flying circles to define his territory. They pair for the season, and both participate in rearing the young.
The great blue heron is carnivorous eating fish, frogs, rats, mice, insects, snakes and mollusks – often spearing the larger prey with its sharp bill. To get that food from the spearing bill into its gullet, it often tosses the prey into the air to catch it on the fly. Occasionally it tries to down a fish too large for its narrow throat, a painful process to watch typically ending in regurgitation or the death of one or both parties.
In turn, the great blue heron is prey to bears, hawks, eagles, turkey vultures and men; and their eggs to many smaller animals.
If you are ever in their immediate neighborhood, have a care. Herons are not innocuous and, when cornered, will attack the eyes.
Opening photo: The Great Blue Heron fishing in the Central Park pool.
All photos by Fred R. Cohen. See more of his work on his website.