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Great Blue Heron Rookery

The great blue heron, the largest North American heron, nests in colonies called rookeries.  I had been looking for a great blue heron habitant to photograph!  Something about these birds have always fascinated me.  Coming up to this great blue heron rookery filled with dead trees has an eerie prehistoric-looking feeling.  Approaching quietly so I didn’t disturb them, you can hear the sounds of both adults and young from the great blue heron nesting platforms.  Watching, observing and photographing a great blue heron nest was both peaceful and insightful.  Look how close these nests are!   

Great Blue Heron Rookery featuring the great blue heron habitant, great Lue heron nest, and great blue heron nesting platforms.

This rookery was formed back in the early 1990s.   A beaver dam flooded the small stream that flows through the forested swamp.  The water rose, and the trees died.  This provided the perfect area for the heron nests. 

Great Blue Heron Rookery featuring the great blue heron habitant, great Lue heron nest, and great blue heron nesting platforms.

Nests

A great blue heron nest ranges in size and larger nests measure 3-4 feet across.  This great blue heron nesting platforms are about 40 feet above the ground.  Once nesting is complete, the nests will remain and the herons will usually come back to the same place, not necessarily same nest, each year.   

Great Blue Heron Rookery featuring the great blue heron habitant, great Lue heron nest, and great blue heron nesting platforms.

Great Blue Heron Rookery featuring the great blue heron habitant, great Lue heron nest, and great blue heron nesting platforms.

 

Mating

Each spring, the male returns first and claims a nest.   Unlike bald eagles, herons do not mate for life.  They are monogamous during the season, but may choose a different mate the following year.   The male will wait in the nest and goes through several displays to attract a mate.  He may stretching is neck up with bill pointing to the sky, stretch his neck forward, fly around the rookery, and strut his feathers.   Once a mate is secured, the female will build or add onto the nest with the male bringing most of the sticks for the nesting.  The female sits in the nest waiting and then will weave the sticks into a platform and line it with soft material such as pine needles, moss, smaller twigs, and dry grass.  

The existing nests in the great blue heron habitant  are obtained on a first come first serve basis.  So obviously the larger ones are taken first.  Some of the smaller nests make you wonder how they can fit into them!

Great Blue Heron Rookery featuring the great blue heron habitant, great Lue heron nest, and great blue heron nesting platforms.

Great Blue Heron Rookery featuring the great blue heron habitant, great Lue heron nest, and great blue heron nesting platforms.

Great Blue Heron Rookery featuring the great blue heron habitant, great Lue heron nest, and great blue heron nesting platforms.

 

Life in the nest

Eggs are in the nest around 30 days before hatching.  Hatched young will remain 50-60 days and then fledge.  The male and female will switch on and off tending to the eggs while the other one hunts for food.    It is usually the female on the nest at night.  

They will lay between 2-7 eggs.  The young are capable of flight around 60 days old, and will leave the nest between 65-90 days.  

Most of the time, the adult heron will wait for the other adult to return to the nest before leaving.   I did observe though, that sometimes one adult will leave the young in the nest for short periods of time.  These young chicks appear to be a bit older so this is probably preparing them to fledge.  This adult did not venture far from the nest, but the chicks did stay in the nest alone for a while. 

Great Blue Heron Rookery featuring the great blue heron habitant, great Lue heron nest, and great blue heron nesting platforms.

Because they lay the eggs at different times, the eggs hatch at different times.  This heron in the rookery is still in the nest waiting for hatching.  This adult did not leave the nest in the entire 3+ hours that I was there.  

Great Blue Heron Rookery featuring the great blue heron habitant, great Lue heron nest, and great blue heron nesting platforms.

 

Great Blue Heron Facts

  • Stand 4 feed tall
  • Wing spans approach 6 feet
  • Male and female look alike
  • Adult females are generally smaller than the adult males
  • Adult males have longer ornamental plumage
  • By the time they are two years old, they will have most of their adult plumage
  • Weigh between 4.6 – 5.5 pounds

Behavior observation

You can see this adult “clucking” and even see the tongue.  The noise made with this many nests is unbelievable!

Great Blue Heron Rookery featuring the great blue heron habitant, great Lue heron nest, and great blue heron nesting platforms.

The herons as well as the chicks often looked around observing other nests and perhaps waiting for the other adult.  

Great Blue Heron Rookery featuring the great blue heron habitant, great Lue heron nest, and great blue heron nesting platforms.

I did find it off that nests were not only built in the same tree, but right on top of each other.  The nesting platforms of the great blue heron are certainly unique. 

When both adults get in the tree, the nest certainly seems too small for them!

One adult leaves while the other feeds the young in the nest.  

Conclusion

John Muir said, “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt”.   If is so true.  This small 1 mile hike to the great blue heron habitant provided an insight to these beautiful birds that I would not have seen.  Nature rejuvenates and inspires us.  And sometimes we all need that. 


Debbi Marquette Photography is located in Upstate New York at the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains.  Debbi is  an award winning and published  travel, landscape and bald eagle photographer specializing in artistic, authentic, and memorable landscape and wildlife photography.   She travels frequently, lives near the mountains and constantly has a camera in her hand to capture photographs so others can see the beauty of our world.

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