Buds N Bugs: Great blue heron

A great blue heron captures a frog.

A great blue heron captures a frog.

Florida Fish and Wildlife conservation Commission
Published: Monday, December 23, 2013 at 12:01 PM.

The great blue heron (Ardea herodias) is the largest of the North American herons with gangly legs, a sinuous neck, and a thick, dagger-like bill. Its slatey plumage appears shaggy. In flight, the great blue curls its neck into a tight “S” shape; its wings are broad and rounded and its legs trail well beyond the tail.

Herons usually hunt alone while standing in shallow water or at the water's edge, especially around dawn and dusk. A heron often wades slowly or stands patiently waiting to quickly spear unwary fish or frogs with its long, sharp bill.

Some paleontologists have commented that herons bear a close resemblance in appearance and habit to the great wading dinosaurs.

Herons may also feed by hovering over water and picking up prey, diving headfirst into the water, alighting on water feet-first, jumping from perches feet-first, and swimming or floating on the surface of the water. When it is beneficial to locating schools of fish, herons may form loose feeding flocks. Herons locate their food by sight and usually swallow it whole. Inland, rodents are often an important part of the great blue’s diet.

While the great blue feeds mostly on small fish it will also eat shrimp, crabs, aquatic insects, rodents and other small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and small birds.

Herons are most often seen near saltwater and freshwater habitats, including open coasts, marshes, riverbanks, and lakes and even backyard goldfish ponds, retention ponds and other landscape water features. They also forage in grasslands and agricultural fields.

Breeding birds gather in colonies or “heronries,” sometimes with other heron species, to build stick nests high off the ground on old growth trees.

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