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Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

D3B73F63-55ED-41AB-8B56-C53C785EB6EE.jpegOften poised on the stream bank standing as still as a statue, Great blue herons are majestic and somewhat intimidating. Whether it be at Lake Solano Park or the South Fork Preserve in Davis, you are sure to spot a Great blue heron somewhere along the creek. Year-round residents of Putah Creek, these large wading birds often move slowly or stay at a standstill along the creek’s edge waiting to strike at the first sight of prey. Great blue herons will eat pretty much anything within striking distance including fish, amphibians, reptiles, small insects, and even other birds! They grab their prey with their strong, sharp, orangish-yellow beaks. Due to specialized vision, blue herons can hunt both day and night.

Great blue herons are quite large in size with a height of anywhere between 3 to 4.5 feet tall and a wingspan of 5 to 6.5 feet long making them the largest North American heron. Their large size makes them hard to miss when they soar overhead. Their wings are two-toned in appearance: paler on the forewing and dark toward the wingtips. In-flight, Great blue herons coil their necks in flight making an s-shape that is similar to egrets. Contrary to their large size, blue herons actually only weigh 5 to 6 pounds thanks to their hollow bones. 

Blue herons have distinctive feathers on their chest that fray out almost in a necklace formation. Not just for fashion, these feathers serve a specialized purpose. These feathers continuously grow and fray. With their fringed claws on their middle toes, blue herons comb through the feathers collecting powder down. The blue herons then use the down as a sort of washcloth to remove fish slime and other oils from their feathers keeping them clean and tidy. 

Although they are known for foraging alone, great blue herons nest in breeding colonies that can be upwards of 500 or more nests. Typically in trees, male herons choose the nesting site and work to attract passing females. Mostly monogamous during the mating season, great blue herons do choose new mates each season. Males gather much of the nesting material to present to the females who weave a platform and small cup for the eggs. Ground nesting great blue herons use salt grass and other vegetation to form their nests. 

Have you spotted a Great blue heron along the creek or at Lake Solano?