Great Blue

“Oscar” in 2012

Rain didn’t bother this Great Blue Heron. It posed motionless on the kite lawn, waiting for something edible to pop up out of the soft earth. Eventually it moved on to taller grass , and then took wing to try its luck on the lawn surrounding the west side picnic area.

Several different Great Blues have frequented the park over the years. One big male, dubbed “Oscar,” probably lived in or very near the park in 2011-14 and became an iconic sight. The more recent sightings have been visitors.

This current individual looks quite grown up. Like most of the visitors, it has no fear of humans provided we keep a respectful distance.

The Great Blue is the biggest bird around. It’s slightly taller and has a bigger body than its local cousin, the all-white Great Egret. There is an all-white variant of the Great Blue, but it’s not seen this far north.

The Cornell bird lab website has these “Cool Facts” about Great Blue Herons:

  • Despite their impressive size, Great Blue Herons weigh only 5 to 6 pounds thanks in part to their hollow bones—a feature all birds share.
  • Great Blue Herons in the northeastern U.S. and southern Canada have benefited from the recovery of beaver populations, which have created a patchwork of swamps and meadows well-suited to foraging and nesting.
  • Along the Pacific coast, it’s not unusual to see a Great Blue Heron poised atop a floating bed of kelp waiting for a meal to swim by.
  • The white form of the Great Blue Heron, known as the “great white heron,” is found nearly exclusively in shallow marine waters along the coast of very southern Florida, the Yucatan Peninsula, and in the Caribbean. Where the dark and white forms overlap in Florida, intermediate birds known as “Wurdemann’s herons” can be found. They have the body of a Great Blue Heron, but the white head and neck of the great white heron.
  • Great Blue Herons have specialized feathers on their chest that continually grow and fray. The herons comb this “powder down” with a fringed claw on their middle toes, using the down like a washcloth to remove fish slime and other oils from their feathers as they preen. Applying the powder to their underparts protects their feathers against the slime and oils of swamps.
  • Great Blue Herons can hunt day and night thanks to a high percentage of rod-type photoreceptors in their eyes that improve their night vision.
  • Great Blue Herons congregate at fish hatcheries, creating potential problems for the fish farmers. A study found that herons ate mostly diseased fish that would have died shortly anyway. Sick fish spent more time near the surface of the water where they were more vulnerable to the herons.
  • The oldest recorded Great Blue Heron was found in Texas when it was at least 24 years, 6 months old.
  • Thanks to specially shaped neck vertebrae, Great Blue Herons can quickly strike prey at a distance.
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

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