The Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) isn’t the kind of bird everyone sees in their backyard. If you live on a lake or river, though, you’re likely to see this large wading bird every so often. It’s found year-round in most of the U.S., and is so distinctive it really can’t be confused with any other bird, especially since it’s nearly always found in or around water, both salt and fresh.
It’s the largest heron in North America, standing nearly five feet tall with a wingspan of six and half feet. Those found further south are generally larger than those in the north. An all-white subspecies is found only in Southern Florida and the Caribbean, sometimes called the Great White Heron though it is not a separate species. Though it resembles the Great Egret in color and size, there are distinct differences. (See a picture at AllAboutBirds.org.) Most of us, though, will see the ordinary coloration shown in the picture to the right.
Great Blue Herons are carnivores, eating mainly fish but also crayfish, snakes, frogs, and anything else they find in or near the water. They sometimes try to eat prey that is too large for them to swallow, and can choke to death from it. They stalk the edge of the water, rarely going deeper than the length of their legs, snaring prey with a quick stab of their bill.
Living on a large lake, I’d never given though to whether a Great Blue Heron could be considered a threat instead of a welcome sight. A recent comment from a reader, though, prompted to me to look into this possibility. It seems that those with small backyard ponds may in fact find Great Blue Herons to be more of a pest than a pleasure, as they can eat all the fish in a small pond very quickly.
However, and this is very important, it is never legal to kill or harm a Great Blue Heron in any way. They are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, even on private property. Property owners are permitted, however, to discourage Great Blue Herons from eating from their ponds as long as the birds aren’t harmed. If this is a problem you’re facing, click here for help.
I’m lucky enough to see Great Blue Herons in my yard or nearby almost daily. How often do you encounter these majestic birds? What do you love about them? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and visit BirdsandBlooms.com for more pictures of this amazing bird and others!
Every weekend, the Focus on Natives segment highlights a plant, bird, or butterfly native to the Southeastern U.S. Know of a particular species you’d like to see featured here? Make your suggestions in the comments section below.