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There’s a reason it’s called a ‘Great’ Blue Heron

A Great Blue Heron
A Great Blue Heron

When we lived in rural New York State and had a small, muddy pond, on one rare occasion a Great Blue Heron landed in the middle of it. Looking oversized, and presumably feeling out of place, it soon flew off.

Now that I live in the Lowcountry, I see these majestic birds often, but the sight is still thrilling.

Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) are huge - up to four and a half feet tall - with long, S-shaped necks and wingspans of six feet or more.

They spend much of their time alone, wading through shallow water one delicate step at a time, or standing dead-still on stilt-like legs, beak poised to snap up the next meal.

Their diet consists mostly of fish, supplemented by crabs, shrimp, insects, frogs, turtles, and other aquatic prey. On land, they capture rodents, snakes, even small birds.

Although they’re iconic features of southeastern wetlands, Great Blue Herons are also found year-round throughout most of the United States in both saltwater and freshwater habitats.

Florida’s Great White Heron has been variously considered a color morph or a subspecies of the Great Blue, which it closely resembles, aside from plumage color.

Great Blue Herons breed together in noisy colonies, sometimes in the company of other wading birds. The nest is a platform of sticks and other natural materials, typically in trees near water.

Both parents feed the nestlings, which leave home after two to three months. Although mortality is high during the first year, some adults may live fifteen years or longer.

Sometimes Great Blue Herons seem remarkably tame - hanging out at marinas and fishing piers, strolling across lawns, or raiding backyard fish ponds.

Once I saw a heron standing motionless, much like a statue, just outside our neighbor’s front door.

Vicky McMillan, a retired biologist formerly at Colgate University,lives on Hilton Head Island. She can be reached at