Great Blue Heron, Idlewild Park, Reno. September 2016.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) in St. Joseph Sound, Tarpon Springs, FL. Photo: Terry Foote, Creative Commons License.

Great Blue Heron
Ardea herodias
  • Blue-gray body and neck.
  • Black and white feathers on head.
  • Long “s”-shaped neck.
  • Sturdy yellow bill.
Record Observations
Species Description

Great Blue Herons are tall wading birds common to rivers and wetlands across North America, and present year round in the Truckee River region (see eBird database).  Look for Great Blue Herons along the banks of the Truckee River and nearby lakes and reservoirs — either wading low along the shoreline, perched above the riverbank in tree branches, or flying high overhead with head pulled back against shoulders and long, slow wing-beats.  Great Blue Herons can grow to close to 4 feet tall with wingspans of 6 feet — and weigh only about 5.3 lbs (Sibley 2000).

Great Blue Herons nest in colonies called “rookeries”, sometimes with hundreds of pairs of other herons, egrets and cormorants.  They usually nest near water, and sometimes in swamps or on islands where they can avoid ground predators (Beedy & Pandolfino 2013; Ryser 1985). Between February and July, Herons construct stick nests and raise young (2-6 at a time) in the tops of trees, bushes, or on the ground.  Breeding colonies are often noisy — Herons make seven different calls, including a 19-second long “Frawnk” (Vennesland & Butler 2011). According to Birds of the Sierra Nevada (2013), there may be a blue heron rookery somewhere near Boca Reservoir.  Have you seen it?  If so, please share observations!

Great Blue Herons hunt by wading slowly or standing motionless in the water for a while, then striking quickly with their long bills to grab fish, frogs, reptiles, crayfish and aquatic insects.  During winter and spring, Herons sometimes move to fields, where they hunt mice and other small mammals (Beedy & Pandolfino 2013).


References & Links

Beedy, Edward C. and Pandolfino, Edward R. 2013. Birds of the Sierra Nevada. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Floyd, Ted; Elphic, Chris; Chisholm, Grant; Mack, Kevin; Elston, Robert; Ammon, Elisabeth; and John Boone.  2007. Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Nevada.  Reno: University of Nevada Press.

Ryser, Fred A. 1985. Birds of the Great Basin.  Reno: University of Nevada Press.

Sibley, David Allen.  2000.  The Sibley Guide to Birds.  Alfred A. Knopf; New York.

Vennesland, Ross G. and Robert W. Butler. 2011. Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Available at: http://0-bna.birds.cornell.edu.innopac.library.unr.edu/bna/species/025

Characteristics

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