Buds N Bugs: Great blue heron

Published: Monday, December 23, 2013 at 12:01 PM.

In the South, alligators, snakes and raccoons congregate under heronries to feed on fallen chicks and each other. In treeless areas, great blues readily nest on the ground, in shrubbery, in the prickly arms of a cactus or on cliffs.

The heron’s call, a harsh croak or honk, is most vocal during the breeding season or when disturbed. They also snap their bills loudly to attract a mate or to defend a nest. Bill clappering, the rapid chattering of the tips of the bill, is common between mated pairs.

In past times, fishermen believed herons wiggled their toes to imitate worms and attract fish and that their feet produced oil that lured prey. There was also a widely held belief great blues could pluck down from their breast and scatter it on the water to create an iridescent lure. None of these stories is true. The heron’s success as a fisherman is due to sharp eyesight, speed and patience.

Herons are symbols of good luck and patience in many Native American tribes especially in the Pacific Northwest but they are also seen as restless, solitary and vain. Seeing a great blue was an omen of a successful fishing trip; not surprising since they are skilled at locating fish.

 In Greece , herons were sacred to the sea-god Poseidon and an emblem of Atlantis, the lost island paradise.

In many cultures, herons are said to be enemies of eagles and friends of crows. In Japan and China , a heron and a crow may be pictured together as a symbol of the yin-yang. Because of the long "nosy" beak, a heron is sometimes a symbol of curiosity, nosiness, and busybodies.

Like the crane, the heron's habit of standing on one leg earns it a reputation for contemplation, vigilance, divine or occult wisdom, and inner quietness in Mediterranean , Middle Eastern and some Asian cultures. Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, employed a heron as one of her divine messengers. Native American legends tell of wise men who, having died, visited the earth in the bodies of herons.

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