Today is February 2nd. Do you know what that means? It’s World Wetlands Day! (Did you really think I was going to say Groundhog’s Day??)
Wetlands are one of the most important ecosystems in the world. They support a countless number of animal and plant species. Wetlands are beneficial to us as well. The plants in wetlands help against erosion. Wetlands help keep rivers at normal levels and filter the water.
So I thought I would talk about a bird that is common in wetlands: the Great Blue Heron. As we mentioned in the last post, the term “greater” means the largest of a species. The Great Blue Heron is the most abundant of the 6 heron species found in the United States. They have beautiful blue-gray feathers and a black and white crown. Their legs and neck are long and slender. They can bend their neck into an S-shape due to the way their vertebrae are shaped. As big as the Heron looks, it’s bones are hollow, so it only weigh 5 to 6 pounds! A Great Blue’s bill is sharp like a dagger, and they use it to spear fish. If you’ve ever seen a Great Blue Heron at a lake or pond, you would notice that it usually stalks around slowly. Sometimes it stands still like a statue. But don’t be fooled: when that heron spots a fish it moves swiftly to catch its meal.
In addition to fish, Great Blue Herons also eat reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, and insects. Sometimes they will take the prey they catch and shake it or hit it against the water before swallowing it. I once observed a Great Blue catch a frog at a lake and slam it against the water before consuming it.
Great Blue Herons are usually by themselves when they hunt, but when it comes to breeding they will nest in pairs by the hundreds. These nesting colonies are called rookeries. They nest in trees and make large stick nests. Great Blues are monogamous during breeding season, but will find a new mate each year. When it comes to mates, pairs will do pair-bonding rituals such as courtship dances. Great Blue Herons usually have between 2-6 eggs.
It’s always wonderful to see a Great Blue Heron. They are such striking and majestic birds. I also enjoy watching them fly overhead, with their large, fluid wing beats. One of my favorite Great Blue Heron moments was at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Philadelphia last December. There were 6 Great Blues hanging out in the same pond! Since they are very independent I was shocked to see that many in one place. By the end of the walk that day we saw 10 Great Blue Herons! It was certainly a record for me.
Do you see Great Blue Herons in your local wetlands? Remember, if we want to continue seeing amazing birds like the Great Blue Heron, we need to protect our wetlands. If you want to find out ways that you can help protect wetlands check out this link: http://www.habitat.noaa.gov/protection/wetlands/whatyoucando.html