SUBSCRIBE | NEWSLETTERS | MAPS | VIDEOS | BLOGS | MARKETPLACE | CONTESTS
TRY BACKPACKER FREE!
SUBSCRIBE NOW and get
2 Free Issues and 3 Free Gifts!
Full Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip Code:
Email: (required)
If I like it and decide to continue, I'll pay just $12.00, and receive a full one-year subscription (9 issues in all), a 73% savings off the newsstand price! If for any reason I decide not to continue, I'll write "cancel" on the invoice and owe nothing.
Your subscription includes 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Or click here to pay now and get 2 extra issues
Offer valid in US only.

Also on Backpacker.com


Enter Zip Code

Backpacker Magazine – June 2008

See More: Great Blue Herons

This dignified giant stands four feet tall, making it North America's largest heron.

by: Becky Lomax

Illustration by Kevin Hand
Illustration by Kevin Hand

Great Blue Herons
Cloaked in battleship-gray plumage set off by dark eyebrow feathers (adults sport a shaggy neck fringe), great blues perch on long, pale, backward-bending legs and hunt with a six-inch-long, dagger-sharp bill. Look for these elegant birds in both fresh- and saltwater marshes, ponds, and lakes below 5,000 feet from coast to coast.

Flying
Startle a heron, and it will leap into the air with a loud kraak while rising gracefully on its slow-beating wings that can span six feet. In flight, they retract their necks into an S-shaped curve and trail their legs behind them like modern-day feathered pterodactyls. Herons in the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes region migrate south in winter when food becomes scarce, and return each spring to the same breeding grounds.

Nesting
Herons often congregate in colonies (rookeries) containing more than 100 pairs. In spring, males attract females by gathering sticks that the females then use to build three-foot-wide nests in tall, often dead, trees. Both parents incubate eggs and care for chicks. If a predator like a bald eagle or raccoon kills a heron in a rookery, the entire group will abandon the site.

Hunting
Standing motionless, a solitary heron scans the shallows for small fish. Spotting one, the bird compresses its neck, wades forward, and then abruptly plunges its head underwater, pinching the fish in its bill. Thanks to their long legs, herons can wade deeper than other shorebirds, and are known to stalk frogs, salamanders, snakes, shrimp, aquatic insects, even rodents. Like many anglers, herons hunt mainly at dawn or dusk, and they aggressively defend their favorite territories.

Conserving
With few natural predators, the heron's biggest menace is human disturbance. While not threatened (more than 250,000 birds can be found in the United States), herons are very sensitive to wetland habitat destruction and noise, both of which can lead to nest failure. Stay at least 1,000 feet away from nests, especially from March to August when chicks are present, and move back if a heron issues a warning call that sounds like fraunk.



Subscribe to Backpacker magazine
Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter
Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip:
Email (req):
Reader Rating: -

READERS COMMENTS

Benjamin Franklin
Feb 11, 2009

This is very interesting but I need to know how I can build a model of one for a science project.

ADD A COMMENT

Your rating:
Your Name:

Comment:

My Profile Join Now

Most recent threads

Southern
HOTB 2014
Posted On: Aug 01, 2014
Submitted By: reubenstump
Trailhead Register
Do you make back-up plans?
Posted On: Aug 01, 2014
Submitted By: reubenstump

Go
View all Gear
Find a retailer

Special sections - Expert handbooks for key trails, techniques and gear

Check out Montana in Warren Miller's Ticket to Ride
Warren Miller athletes charge hard and reflect on Big Sky country, their love for this space and the immense energy allotted to the people who reside in Montana.

Boost Your Apps
Add powerful tools and exclusive maps to your BACKPACKER apps through our partnership with Trimble Outdoors.

Carry the Best Maps
With BACKPACKER PRO Maps, get life-list destinations and local trips on adventure-ready waterproof myTopo paper.

FREE Rocky Mountain Trip Planner
Sign up for a free Rocky Mountain National Park trip planning kit from our sister site MyRockyMountainPark.com.

Follow BackpackerMag on Twitter Follow Backpacker on Facebook
Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 3 FREE GIFTS
Survival Skills 101 • Eat Better
The Best Trails in America
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Backpacker
and my 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Full Name:
City:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
State:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions