May 11, 2017

Dunes in Flight: Great Blue Heron


The Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) has been spotted recently by visitors to Oso Flaco Lake.  Easily identifiable by its color and shape, this heron's range is extensive across North America. They are blue-gray with a wide black stripe over the eye. When flying, they are distinctive from their slow wingbeats, tucked-in neck, and trailing legs.  Their wingspan is about 6 feet, and despite being up to 4 feet tall, they are a relatively lightweight bird at around 5 pounds.

These birds hunt by wading in shallow fresh and salt water, slowly searching for unsuspecting creatures to prey upon. While their body movements are slow and calculated, they can strike their spear-like bills at lightning speeds. The "S" shape in their neck allows them to strike very quickly and creates a more aerodynamic form while flying. They hunt almost any prey within striking distance, including fish, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, insects, and other birds. They quickly grab and swallow smaller prey, but will spear larger fish with their powerful beaks. The frayed feathers on their chests are helpful for cleaning off fish slime and oils as they preen. They have excellent day and night vision.  Be on the lookout for these majestic bids!

Photo © Frank Schulenburg / , via Wikimedia Commons


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