7 Fascinating Facts About Great Blue Herons

Updated: Jan. 21, 2022

Spotting a regal, statuesque heron is always a treat. Learn facts about great blue herons.

great blue heron factsCourtesy Becky Jones
A great blue heron gracefully gliding on Schuy Rush Lake, in Rushville, Illinois, in the fall.

Do Great Blue Herons Migrate?

“Is it normal for a great blue heron not to migrate? There’s one still fishing in our backyard pond,” writes Marion Lambert of Lyndonville, New York.

It’s true that most great blue herons migrate to warmer climates in winter, but a few will remain far to the north, especially where some open water gives them access to fish, frogs and other aquatic prey. If the water is temporarily frozen, they may survive by catching mice and other small animals. Staying north is a gamble that doesn’t always end well for these lingering birds, but on the other hand, they avoid the perils of migration by remaining where they are. Sometimes the risk pays off. Check out the top birding hotspots for fall migration.

Great Blue Heron Size

The great blue heron is the largest heron species in North America, standing about 4 feet tall. But even though they are large birds, they don’t weigh much (only 5 to 6 pounds), thanks to their light, hollow bones (a trait most birds have). Learn about the 10 egrets and herons found in North America.

Great Blue Heron Nest

Nests vary widely. A first-year nest may be only 20 inches across. Others, used repeatedly for many years, can reach 4 feet in diameter and nearly as deep. A great blue heron colony might have more than 500 nests. Learn about 8 different kinds of bird nests and how to spot them.

How Fast Do Herons Fly?

For such large and lanky birds, herons are speedy, flying as fast as 30 mph. They usually fly with their necks in an S-shape and their legs trailing behind them. Check out fascinating facts about wading birds.

What Do Great Blue Herons Eat?

With a lightning fast strike, herons easily nab fish or frogs for a meal. Discover 7 backyard birds that eat berries.

Great Blue Heron Call

One part of the great blue heron that’s not beautiful is its call. The rough squawk has a guttural, almost prehistoric sound to it. Learn what a cardinal’s call sound like.

Do Males and Females Look Alike?

Great blue herons are one of the most beautiful birds in America. The male and female look almost exactly the same. On average, males are a little larger with longer ornamental plumes, but these distinctions are so slight and variable that it’s hard to see the difference, even when members of a pair are together. And pairs are together only when they are on the nest. That’s where they do their courtship and all their interactions around raising their young. When they fly off to find food for themselves and their young, they go separately, not together.