EDITOR’S NOTE: Every week, columnist Neil Ball shares photos and profiles of local birds that he’s seen, studied and photographed in our area.

Meet the Great Blue Heron

By Neil Ball

OK. To begin with, I like anything that has Great in their name, and feel sorry for anything that has Lesser in their name. All are equal in my eyes, but I’m not sure where that puts me between the hopes for the underdog and the aspirations for the elitists. The Great Blue Heron is aptly named because it is great, and blue, and according to the people that name these things, a heron. It is the largest Heron in the United States with a height of four feet and a wingspan of six feet. They are not a bird that is easily overlooked and is easily identified. It is a very large, blue bird with a massive beak and a squawk that sounds like a pterodactyl would, if we knew what they sounded like.

So, you figure a bird as tall as a second grader would find a safe place on the ground to find a nesting place, but not these prehistoric specimens. They live in trees. Seeing these great birds land on a treetop is truly amazing. They do not have the gripping claws, or the size of any bird that actually belongs in trees, but there they are. They have been nesting and surviving for eons in the tops of trees.

Great Blue Herons are survivors. They will eat anything, and everything, from rodents, to fish, to baby ducklings. If it moves, it is on its menu. Maybe that is how it has managed to survive for this many years.

We do have a couple of rookeries, or heronies in our area if you want to see them in action. Seattle is home to many heron colonies, including the North Beach neighborhood (between Carkeek Park and Golden Gardens), Matthews Beach, the University of Washington campus, Commodore Park on north Magnolia Hill, and the West Marginal Way Greenbelt. In King County, heron colonies are found in City of Kenmore, Marymoor Park in Redmond, the Black River Riparian Forest and Wetland in Renton, and at Lake Sammamish State Park. If you have the chance, go watch them in their rookeries. That first flight from a fledgling heron must be a scary solo flight.

Questions, suggestions, requests? E-mail me at [email protected].

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