Great Blue Heron
The great blue heron is among the tallest herons in North America and its wingspan can be up to 6 feet wide! This bluish-gray, long-legged wader is a common resident of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, where it can be seen stalking prey along the river and lake shores.
There is a white color phase of the blue heron called a great white heron, but it's range is limited to Florida and isn't found in Minnesota. If you spot a large, heron-like bird that is white, it is most likely a great egret.
The blue heron is well suited to finding and catching fish. A patient hunter, the blue heron hunts by wading slowly in shallow water where it finds crayfish, fish, small turtles, and frogs. Its bill is sharp and serrated, which makes it well suited to grip its slippery prey. It may also hunt for small animals and large insects on land.
Blue herons nest in treetop colonies called rookeries. Nests are generally located 30-70 feet above the ground or water in a large tree, which often stands in water or on an island. Such a location decreases nest predation by land-based predators. Nesting in colonies also increases the number of sharp eyes looking for dangererous predators.
Blue herons have a serrated claw used during preening.
Many fish, such as perch and bluegills, are armed with sharp spines. To eat fish, blue herons turn their prey so it is swallowed head first. This depresses spines, usually located in the fins, against the fish's body and makes it less likely that the bird will get pricked.
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
Key ID Features: Large, long-legged wading birds. Gray blue with white around eyes and gray crown.
Present in Park: March through November. There is an easily observed rookery on an island at North Mississippi Regional Park.
Habitat: Small ponds and streams, large lakes and rivers, wetlands. Nests colonially in trees, often with other species. Nests are clumsy stick affairs high in trees, often on islands.
Did You Know?
A canoe trip in the Mississippi River Gorge between Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN feels like you are miles away from civilization even though you are in the center of a large metropolitan area.