Birds of the Western Slope-Herons
By Evelyn Horn
Published Friday, June 17, 2016 11:51 am
Great Blue Heron
There he goes again ... flying toward the Grand Mesa. I've often wondered, is he flying homeward? Is he out to raid someone's fish pond? Or has he eaten already and just headed for his roost?
This bird appears regularly and I always wonder.
And I recall the bird that I watched yesterday. It was a bit of a cold, strong wind. Our local pelicans were scattered out over the reservoir in the rough water. I watched a western grebe trying to swallow its catch, but it seemed a bit too big!
My bird was standing along the shore of the northwest pond. What was it? A sandhill crane? Or a heron? All gray with a level body silhouette, long legs and long straight neck held up high. As I slowed, the head went higher. But then the bird took flight -- the famous curved neck appeared and I knew I had a great blue heron! And it was very obviously BLUE!
The flight feathers were a darker blue, the head and neck were tan and there was a very large yellow bill. I was so taken with the bird's blue plumage ... what a beautiful bird!
For years we had an active nesting colony of great blues and I could easily see their large nests of sticks from the pullout by the dam. I occasionally watched them building the nests and they looked comical carrying large sticks and working them into the nest. But they were successful! Of course, all this is hard on the trees -- the weight, the extra activity, and the droppings. Earlier this year, there was a colony forming along the Gunnison River that I could see from the bridge just before the junction of Highway 65 with Highway 92. Not a good place for viewing!
Over those years, I was able to study the young birds. They have a dark crown (top of the head) but their foraging technique is a far better clue to watch for identification ... they take several stabs at prey, but come up empty most of the time. They often (to me) look frustrated! Hard work and small fish.
My bird's name is Ardea herodias. The genus name of Ardea is Latin for heron and the second name reminds me of "herons." It looks and acts like herons do and there are lots of herons. But my bird was big: 46 inches tall, with a wingspan of 72 inches, and weighed about five pounds. There is a white morph that occurs in Florida and a hybrid that aren't seen here.
I do miss our colony of great blue herons.