Great Blue Heron

Ardea herodias

       

Great Blue Heron Track
(Right foot)

Track Size: 6 1/16 - 8 7/16 in. L x 4 5/16 - 5 7/8 in. W
       

Click here to hear a heron sound. (38K WAV)

       

 

Natural History of Great Blue Herons

GReat blue heron hunting. Photo by Kim A. Cabrera 2002.
Heron stalking in the shallows.

This large bird stands four feet tall and has a seven foot wingspan. It is the largest heron in North America. Its body is blue-gray and its head is white with black plumes projecting to the rear. It has a yellow bill.

The tracks are six to eight inches long. They show three toes facing forward and one back.

Herons live in fresh or salt water, wherever fish are plentiful. They are found in wetland areas, so you will see them along the banks of rivers or in marshes.

They eat fish, snakes, insects, mice, and frogs. They hunt by walking slowly through shallow water and striking at prey. They use the long, dagger-like bill to spear fish. You may see them standing motionless in the water with the head and neck folded back, waiting for prey. Herons will squawk when alarmed or startled.

I waited as the heron in the photos slowly stalked along until it was near enough for me to get photos of it. I quietly took the photos, until it heard me move and took off suddenly. It flew down the river canyon, turned and came back, saw me and squawked loudly as it flew away.

Herons have special feathers that break up into powder. These are used as a sort of powder puff to clean their feathers. The powder is rubbed into the feathers and combed out using the comb-like claw located on the middle toe of each foot.

Great blue heron in water. Photo by Kim A. Cabrera 2002.

Tracks show three toes facing forward and one facing back. The large hind toe enables them to stand on one leg for long periods of time.

They nest in colonies in wetlands where vegetation provides safety for the nesting site. Nests are three feet across and built in trees. They are maintained year after year. Herons will make 30-mile round trips to feeding areas.

Heron track with 6-inch ruler for size comparison. Heron track with 6-inch ruler for size comparison. Notice how the three forward toes are not in alignment. This is the left foot. The two outer toes (on the left in the picture) stick out at a slightly offset angle. The two inner toes are in line, as they would be expected to look. This arrangement of the toes may give the heron greater stability when it is walking in the deep mud and water it often hunts in.
 

Great blue heron. Photo coopyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.

Great blue heron on the bank of the river. This heron was looking for fish in the shallows.

 

Great blue heron. Photo coopyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.

Great blue heron reflected in the river's water.

 
 

Left track of a great blue heron. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

The left track of a great blue heron in mud along the banks of a river. Notice the offset toe.

 

Right track of a great blue heron.  Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

The perfect right track of a great blue heron in river mud. The outer toe is offset and not perfectly aligned with the midline.

 
heron track right foot
Heron track - right foot. The mud around it shows signs of having been frozen, then thawed.
 
heron track left foot
Heron track - left foot
 
 
Heron trail pattern. The stride in this photo was about 8 inches.

Great blue heron trail pattern.

Great blue heron tracks. Photo by Kim A. Cabrera 2007.

The trail of a great blue heron on coarse sand on a river bar.
A nice great blue heron track in coarse sand.

Great blue heron track. Photo by Kim A. Cabrera 2007.

   
Great blue heron scat and uric stain. The scats are commonly somewhat formless.

Great blue heron scat. Photo by Kim A. Cabrera 2007.

 

Great blue heron scat and uric stain. Photo by Kim A. Cabrera 2007.

Another great blue heron scat, with a uric stain. The scats appears a bit more solid in this example.

 
Great blue heron and great egret in tree. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
A great blue heron and a great egret resting in a Douglas fir tree above the river.
 
Great blue heron stalking prey. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
Great blue heron hunting in the shallows.
 
Great blue heron wading in the river. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
Great blue heron wading in the river.
 
Great blue heron in flight. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
Great blue heron in flight.
 
Great blue heron taking off. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
Great blue heron taking off. Wingspan can be seven feet!
 
Great blue heron stalking. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
Great blue heron hunting on the river's edge.
 
Great blue heron in a Douglas fir tree. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
Great blue heron in a tree.
 
Great blue herons in flight. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
Two great blue herons flying over the river.
 
Great blue heron slowly stalking prey. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
Great blue heron slowly stalking prey in the shallows.
 
Great blue heron swallowing its prey. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
Great blue heron swallowing prey it caught.
 

Great blue heron track. Left foot. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

Great blue heron track from the left foot.
 

Great blue heron track. Right foot. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

Great blue heron track from the right foot.
 
Great blue heron tracks in shallow water. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
Great blue heron tracks in mud flats.
 
Great blue heron trail. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
Great blue heron trail.
 
Great blue heron wading. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
Great blue heron hunting in the water.
 
 
Great blue heron standing on fallen trees in the river.
 

 

Personal Notes on Great Blue Herons

There is a heron rookery along the bay near where I live. Many herons roost there. It's a pretty fantastic sight to see them. In flight, the heron is monstrous in size. I have seen many herons slowly stalking prey along the shores of the Eel River, which runs by the property I caretake. They never hurry; just take their time and slowly wade through the shallows. When they strike, it's fast and accurate. Amazing hunters.

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Page updated: Monday, January 14, 2013.