Friday, September 19, 2014

Pennsylvania Birds: Great Blue Heron

"Smooth-neck's" Habitat
This past summer where I walk regularly, I have been observing some resident great blue heron. They each have their own territory. “Rough-neck” likes to hang out in an open part of the stream. “Smooth-neck” always could be found right next to a bushy area. For a week now, I have intended to bring my camera on my walk to take a picture of them. The last three days they weren't there. Now I know why. read more

The Great Blue Heron averages 40 to 50 inches long with an even longer wingspan of 70 to 90 inches. He weighs about the same as a bag of sugar, 5 to 6 pounds. His name comes from the color of his back and wings, bluish-green. His neck and head are reddish-brown, and his head is topped with black.

The most interesting thing I've read about him is that he has special tips on some of his feathers. These tips continually disintegrate into powder. When he preens, he distributes this powder to other parts. The powder helps to absorb and remove fish oil and slime.

The heron eats all kinds of water creatures. They clean the streams by plucking and eating many sick and dead fish, but he also eats healthy fish, frogs, dragonflies, salamanders, snakes, crayfish, worms, mice, and more.

I have thought of “Smooth-neck” as a female all summer because of her smaller size. It turns out that I am probably right. From what I’ve read about their nesting habits, that bushy spot with its mass of foliage would have been perfect for hiding a platform-type nest. She might have had young in there, and I never knew it! On the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website is a link to plans for building platforms to encourage heron nesting in your area. Cool! The Cornell site also has a live web cam for watching these birds.

Why did my birds disappear? Although some stay in Pennsylvania all winter, most migrate south. My friends have probably left me for the winter along with the snowy egret that I saw just for a few days.

"Rough-neck's Habitat"

Fergus, Chuck. “The Heron Family,” Wildlife Note 175-16. Harrisburg, PA: Pennsylvania Game Commission. Bureau of Information and Education. 19 Sept. 2014 (My herons looked more like the one second from the left under the subtitle, Field Marks.) 

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