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Gerry Wright, Founder and President

Telephone: 617-524-7070


TTY/MA RELAY 800-439-2370

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"Let it be not for present use and delight alone, but let it be of such a work that our descendents will thank us for it."
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Great Blue Herons

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Great Blue Herons 

by Stephen Baird

Great Blue Heron - Ardea herodias

Great Blue Herons are common in the Emerald Necklace and can be seen wading and hunting for fish, frogs and mice near or in the water at Franklin Park, Forest Hills Cemetery, Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Pond, Olmsted Park and the Muddy River. Herons are large majestic birds which have inspired stories, myths and legends since ancient Egypt. See references below.

Adult birds grow to 3-4 feet in size with a 5-6 foot wingspan and weigh 5-7 pounds. Males are larger than the female.

Song is harsh low “Cronk” when disturbed.  They have many other calls.  See references below.

Life span is 15 years in the wild.  About seventy percent of young birds die in the first year.  Oldest known Great Blue Heron was 23 years old.

Most active at dusk and dawn, but also hunts during the day and at night.

This Great Blue Heron caught a very big hornpout catfish in Leverett Pond in Olmsted Park.  I watched it as it repeatedly speared the fish with its razor sharp bill and attempted to swallow the fish whole head first for over an hour.  Hornpout have very sharp spiney fins.  A dangerous meal for a Great Blue Heron. Great Blue Herons have died because they swallowed prey that was to large for their long S shaped necks and internal intestinal systems. Click on images to see larger versions.

Great Blue Herons conduct courtship during March by exchanging nest branches, clicking beaks and body movements.  Usually lay 2-6 blueish eggs in colonies of 5-300 nests in tall trees called herones. The incubation by both male and female lasts around 30 days and eggs hatch during April and May.  Young herons fledge in 8 weeks.  Great Blue Herons mate with different partners each year.

Solitary hunters and primarily eat fish, frogs and reptiles, but also will eat insects, mice, rats and birds.

Great Blue Herons will migrate south to open water during the winter.  Several hardy individual Great Blue Herons have spent the entire winter in the Emerald Necklace Parks.

Fun Facts:

  • Swallow prey whole and have choked to death from eating prey that was to large

  • Kills prey by using long sharp beak as a spear

  • Regurgitates foods for young

  • Can fly 20-30 miles per hour

  • “Grande Héron ” and “Garza morena”  are the French and Spanish names for Great Blue Herons

References and Links

  • USGS bird identification and breeding atlas Great Blue Heron web page: HERE ( Gough, G.A., Sauer, J.R., Iliff, M. Patuxent Bird Identification Infocenter. 1998. Version 97.1. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD)

  • Illinois Bird Species List, Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Illinois Natural History Survey at University of Illinois, Detailed research information on Great Blue Herons HERE
  • Cornell University's Ornithology Department on line field guide page on the Great Blue Heron with sample song clip HERE

  • University of Michigan site on the Great Blue Heron with sample sound clip HERE

  • John James Audubon's Birds of America, Great Blue Herons detailed original 1840 observation text and paintings on HERE

  • Arthur Cleveland Bent (1866-1954), Life Histories of North American Birds, Great Blue Heron life history published in 1927 HERE
  • Heron and the Hummingbird (Hitchiti Tribe) retold by S. E. Schlosser, Native American Folklore story HERE
  • The Heron and the Crab, India Mythology story HERE
  • Symbolism of the Heron or Egret in Egypt, China, Africa, Native American Culture HERE
Contact and Email Information


36 Perkins St., PO Box 300040, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130-0030

Gerry Wright, Founder and President

Telephone: 617-524-7070


TTY/MA RELAY 800-439-2370

For translations into different languages -- Arabic, Chinese, Italian, French, German, Russian, Spanish or others visit the web site:

Community Arts Advocates

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