Great Blue Heron’s are almost as common on Bainbridge Island as the Majestic Eagle – which is their archenemy – and less so than Seagulls and other recognizable shore birds, such as Canadian Geese and Mallards, among others.
What’s cool about Herons on the island, though, is that they nest for months at a time beginning sometime in the spring, high up in trees near the shore. A rookery of Great Blue’s, nursing their fledglings, has been in place for several years now on Lovell Ave. SW in Downtown Winslow between Winslow Way and Parfitt Way SW.
During one recent visit, we counted at least 30 nests at the site, located in a stand of tall maples between two homes on Lovell. You have to crane your neck to see the parents and the young ones in the nests, but you can clearly hear them cackling among themselves. It’s quite a magnificent site to see and hear nature at work.
The Great Blue Heron, which in reality looks greyer and greener in color than blue, is a large wading bird of North and Central America. It can grow to a height of 54 inches for males (females are much smaller at 38 inches) and have a wingspan of up 6.5 feet! Males also have larger beaks than females and may have some puffy plumage on the backs of their heads. If you’ve ever ventured upon one on a beach and have it suddenly fly off, you get the sense of its size, scale, and fluency. A site to behold!
The big birds’ preferred habitat ranges from ponds, lakes, and rivers to urban areas and artificial reservoirs. They’re flexible with their nests, say the experts, and will nest on both the ground and in trees at heights of 90 feet or more. The nests located on Lovell Ave. are at least 100 feet above ground. The Blue’s will only nest on the ground if there are no land predators nearby, i.e., on islands in the middle of a body of water. Evidently, Bainbridge is way too urban for that approach to play out.
Herons construct their nests from medium to large twigs and line the interior with moss, leaves, grass, and other softer materials. If possible, they reuse their nesting grounds for many years and maintain them carefully throughout the breeding season.
This same behavior is what we have witnessed with the Lovell rookery. They reuse their nests year in and year out, but they don’t normally return to the nest they built, say Heron watchers. Instead, they’ll return to any nest at the breeding site and upgrade it throughout the breeding season.
The clutch size for Great Blues is two to six eggs per hatch, and a pair will usually have one or two broods per year.
Outside of our area, Blue Herons are colonial nesters, and some of the larger colonies can feature some 500 nests or more! Heron colonies are called heronries – herons that flock together close to essential feeding grounds and generally return to the same spot every year.
Typically, Blue Herons rest during the day by folding up their neck and sitting quietly in a sheltered spot. You’ve probably seen them in this position on Bainbridge beaches or marshes. At night, many herons demonstrate a bird behavior that might surprise you: sleeping in trees. Many herons sleep in trees at night, to get themselves off the ground where land dwelling predators might catch them off guard.
They normally defend their feeding territories alone, scaring away competition when necessary. Great Blues typically have access to plenty of food, which is one reason why they don’t need to share feeding territory with other herons. You’ve probably noticed this behavior, as well.
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