I was so impressed watching the Great Blue Heron and all the nests we found in one cove on Little River. Since it was our first time seeing a colony of Herons I thought I would do some research and share a little history and facts about the bird.
Great Blue Herons nest mainly in trees, but will also nest on the ground, on bushes, in mangroves, and on structures such as duck blinds, channel markers, or artificial nest platforms. Males arrive at the colony and settle on nest sites; from there, they court passing females. Colonies can consist of 500 or more individual nests, with multiple nests per tree built 100 or more feet off the ground. We counted 10 very large nests but I am sure there could have been more.
Male Great Blue Herons collect much of the nest material, gathering sticks from the ground and nearby shrubs and trees, and from unguarded and abandoned nests, and presenting them to the female. She weaves a platform and a saucer-shaped nest cup, lining it with pine needles, moss, reeds, dry grass, mangrove leaves, or small twigs. Nest building can take from 3 days up to 2 weeks; the finished nest can range from a simple platform measuring 20 inches across to more elaborate structures used over multiple years, reaching 4 feet across and nearly 3.5 feet deep. Ground-nesting herons use vegetation such as salt grass to form the nest. They also forage in grasslands and agricultural fields. Breeding birds gather in colonies or “heronries” to build stick nests high off the ground. Great Blue Heron fledglings leave the nest between 49-81 days. After the herons fledge, they may come back to the nest for about three weeks.
Clutch Size: 2-6 eggs
Incubation Period: 27-29 days
Nestling Period: 49-81 days
Egg Description: Pale blue, fading slightly with age.
Condition at Hatching: Bluish eyes open, chick covered in pale gray down, able to vocalize.
Great Blue Herons eat nearly anything within striking distance, including fish, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, insects, and other birds. They grab smaller prey in their strong mandibles or use their dagger-like bills to impale larger fish, often shaking them to break or relax the sharp spines before gulping them down.
About the Herons: Though neither bird is banded, you can identify the male by the absence of a hallux (the rear-facing toe) on his right foot. Adult herons can be up to 4.5 feet tall, with a wingspan that ranges up to 6 feet. Despite their large size, they typically only weigh around 5 pounds.
Herons usually lay 2-4 eggs and share incubation duties for 25-30 days. Incubation begins with the first egg, and the young hatch asynchronously (not at the same time) over 2-5 days. After hatching, it’ll take 7-8 weeks before they fly from the nest for the first time.
I do hope you were able to view the magnificent sight of the colony we were so blessed to have in our own community.