Wild Things: The Majestic Great Blue Heron

Great blue herons are tall, majestic wading birds that are fascinating to watch for their amazing wading, nesting and feeding antics. Their squawks, however, sound somewhat like a prehistoric pterodactyl. Great blue herons are common in DuPage County and can be found along shorelines and marshes. They’re about three feet tall, blue-grey on the wings, some black striping on the head and a yellow-orange sharp, dagger-like beak with very long stick-like legs. Despite the large size, a great blue heron weighs only about five pounds, according to District ranger Dave Sima.

When hunting, herons will stand tall and motionless along shorelines as they wait patiently for a fish, small frog or crayfish to wander by. They strike quickly and will spear their prey with their beak and swallow it whole, Sima said. They eat fish, turtles, frogs, snakes and small mammals. They are quite territorial about their hunting grounds and will fend off competition or threats from other herons and even humans.

Herons are generally solitary birds except when it comes to nesting. Here they build communal living communities called rookeries high up in dead trees near marshes. Rookeries can have anywhere from five to 500 nests and birds. Their nests can be up to 4 feet wide and 3 feet deep. During nesting season in the spring, both the mom and dad heron will sit on the eggs until they hatch, and both collect food for their young. The hatchlings stay in the nest for up to 80 days and come out looking mostly like adults, he said.

In DuPage forest preserves, heron rookeries can be found at Timber Ridge in West Chicago, Winfield Mounds in Winfield, Churchill Woods in Glen Ellyn and Danada in Wheaton.

Sima talks more about great blue herons on Wild Things on WDCB Radio (90.9 FM).        

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