Now showing at a rookery near you

Visit any metro wetland or lakeshore at this time of year and you’re likely to find great blue herons ever so patiently stalking prey along the shoreline. These birds, the largest North American herons, stand about four feet tall and eat a variety of animals — fish, frogs, crayfish, small turtles, snakes — all of which they swallow whole. Right now, they’re consuming up to four times their normal amount as they have several very large beaks to feed. Hungry hatchlings aren’t anywhere near their hunting parents. They may be up to 20 miles away, high in the trees among a few to hundreds of other heron nests. These rookeries are most often located on islands, where the birds find more protection from predators.

Approaching a heron rookery is generally not a good idea. The birds are very sensitive to disturbance and may abandon a nest, or alarmed young birds may fall out. However, it is not necessary to get close to a rookery to appreciate it. The din of barking chicks and croaking adults can be heard for some distance, and that alone is quite an experience.

In June and July, the young birds are getting to be quite large, practically bursting out of the nest in an array of appendages, and keeping the adults quite busy attending to their sizable nutritional needs. Upon arriving at the nest, the parents regurgitate the day’s catch into their offspring’s anxious beaks. Most of us won’t have the opportunity to view the spectacle ourselves, but videos such at this one on YouTube can give you the idea of the scene taking place at a rookery near you.

For more info about great blue herons, please visit:

— Restoration Ecologist and Project Manager Karen Schik