Whether wading through a river fishing or flying overhead with their long wings flapping in the air, the Great Blue Heron is a special sight. This “birder” has seen them fly over our home by Wonder Creek and the Turkey River in Spillville, on the trails in the area along the Upper Iowa and along the backwaters of the Mississippi. The large heron is easy to spot, even when flying overhead with their very slow wing flaps, tucked-in neck and trailing long legs that create an unmistakable image in flight. Being a wildlife photographer, I get a special thrill when I can capture a close up of this magnificent bird!
The easiest time to spot and get a chance to take photos of these amazing creatures are when they are hunting. They wade slowly or stand statue-like, stalking fish and other prey in shallow water or open fields. If you own binoclolrs, you may want to take them along unless you have a large zoom on your camera because it is especially fun to watch them quickly stab their prey with their strong bills when they are fishing. We watched as a heron stabbed a bullhead(fish) and shook it hard in the backwaters of the Mississippi recently. He then washed the fish off and somehow managed to gulp it down its sinuous neck. What a sight to witness!
I’ve read that because of very few natural enemies, Great blue herons can live up to 17 years, but they are threatened by our human activities such as the draining of marshes and destruction of their natural habitats, chemical run off etc.
After seeing them, I became more curious about this large bird and by researching found, “They are the largest heron in North America; they stand almost 4 foot tall they definitely stand out with their long plumes, long dagger-like bill and long legs. Amazingly, due to their hollow bones, these very large birds weigh only 5-6 pounds! During most winters many of these water-dependent birds head for the south to warmer climates, though they primarily eat fish, they will eat most anything that they can catch including insects, frogs and mice, or even gophers. Great Blue Herons are colony nesters–they nest, usually near the top of trees, with other Great Blue Herons, cormorants and egrets. Though they look rather awkward high up in a tall tree, they do an amazing job of building and maintaining nests. The males assist nest building by bringing nesting material and providing ‘moral support’ as they stand in the nest watching the female weave the vegetation into a nest that can hold both adults and several offspring through strong winds, rain, hail and sometimes snow.”
This spring I’ll be watching the female who usually lays three to seven eggs and looking for her nest, but I will be using a binoculars or long zoom lens so not to disturb.
Hopefully, as you take time out to walk the trails you will get the gift of seeing one close up. It’s a thrill you won’t soon forget! Photo I took above was taken of the Great Blue Heron on the backwaters of the Mississippi River last spring. Soon the tundra swans will be arriving on the Mississippi River as they migrate for the winter. So much beautiful wildlife right here in Northeast Iowa!