The Great Blue Heron

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.)  

Great Blue Heron hunched against the cold weather

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.

Great Blue Heron in flight over Central park
Great Blue Heron flying over the Harlem Meer in north Central Park on Sunday

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. 

Great Blue Heron with speared fish

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.  

Great Blue Heron with eyes bigger than its stomach
Great Blue Heron in Central Park

In turn, the great blue heron is prey to bears, hawks, eagles, turkey vultures and men; and their eggs to many smaller animals. 

Great Blue Heron in flight

 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.

About Fred R. Cohen (35 Articles)
Fred Cohen, a NYC-based photographer, has been taking pictures for over four decades. His work has been published by Harry N. Abrams, Time Magazine and The New York Times. He does commissioned work and sells images from his extensive library. You can see his more casual work on face book and are welcome to visit his website at