Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
The Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) is the largest of the heron family. They are approximately 38 inches in length, with a 70 inch wingspan. The male and females are similar, with white faces and crowns, and blue-gray and black plumage covering the rest of their bodies. These birds also have long legs and necks that enable them to walk into the water to fish for food. The Blue Heron can be found across North America, the Caribbean, Central America and most of Canada. They are not generally migratory birds, but some do migrate to South and Central America during the winter months. Great Blue Herons are located near watery areas such as lakes, swamps, marshes, rivers or any area that has a water source. Although some can be seen along the coastal areas, the Blue Heron prefers living inland.
March to May are the general months to spot the population of the Great Blue Herons that are located in the northern areas, and they breed in the southern hemisphere from November to April. Nests are made high up in trees that are on the edge of the body of water. The female Great Blue Heron can lay between two to seven eggs, that are light blue in color. The females that are in the northern regions are known to lay more eggs. Male and female Blue Herons both assist in the incubation of the eggs that varies between 26 to 30 days. The chicks fledge the nest after two months, as they are completely independent and will become sexually mature at approximately twenty-two months. Even though the chicks are ready to live and survive on their own, they are most vulnerable during the first year, with more than half not surviving the first year. Great Blue Herons have a life span of about fifteen years, although it has been recorded that the oldest wild heron lived to the age of twenty-three.
The best times to spot the Great Blue Heron is in the early mornings and just before sunset. These are the best fishing times. Even though the herons will sleep and live in great flocks, they prefer to hunt alone and are very aggressive in regard to their nests. They feed on aquatic insects and fish and their spear-like bills assist them in catching fish, and other food sources such as lizards, snakes, frogs, crabs, dragonflies and grasshoppers. Food is swallowed whole and it has happened that herons have choked to death because of their catch being too big to swallow. The Great Blue Heron assists in controlling the insect and fish populations and fish farmers used to see them as a threat. However, it has been shown through research, that the herons eat the sickly and near-dead fish that are located close to the surface.