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13 Interesting & Fun Great Blue Heron Facts You Never Knew

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a great blue heron bird

Great Blue Herons are the largest and most popular Heron type all throughout the United States. If you live around large bodies of water, both saltwater and freshwater alike, you might find a Great Blue Heron colony in your area.

Because of how unique these birds are, you might be curious about the Great Blue Heron. Keep reading to learn 13 interesting and fun facts about Great Blue Heron.

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The 13 Interesting and Fun Great Blue Heron Facts

1. Great Blue Herons Aren’t Actually Blue

Despite their name, Great Blue Herons are not actually blue. Instead, they have a grayish-blue color that appears bluer in the distance but grayer up close. As a result, Great Blue Herons are not bright blue like Blue Jays or other Bluebirds.

In addition to the grayish-blue plumage, Great Blue Herons also have a black crown on their head, as well as an orangish-yellow bill.

a great blue heron
Image Credit: detillybert, Pixabay

2. The Great Blue Heron Is the Largest Heron in North America

Out of all the Herons in North America, the Great Blue Heron is the largest. It’s often between 97–137 centimeters with a wingspan between 167–201 centimeters. It weighs about 6 pounds. For comparison, the Great Blue Heron is about the same size as a goose, if not larger.

3. Great Blue Herons Have a 6 Foot Wingspan in Flight

Whenever Great Blue Herons are flying, they appear even larger than they do on the ground, which says a lot because Great Blue Herons are large overall. They have a wingspan that is 6 feet on average, but their wingspan can vary between 5.5–6 feet.

4. They Only Weigh 6 Pounds

Even though Great Blue Herons are very large, they aren’t very heavy. In fact, Great Blue Herons normally only weigh between 5–6 pounds. Their lightweight is largely due to their slender body type and hollow bones, a feature shared amongst all birds. Although 6 pounds may seem like nothing to us, Great Blue Herons are heavier than most other birds.

a great blue heron on a lake
Image Credit: Erik_Karits, Pixabay

5. Great Blue Herons Eat Almost Anything

Because Great Blue Herons hang out by the water, they primarily eat a diet of fish, but they will eat just about anything they can get ahold of. Great Blue Herons also eat frogs, turtles, salamanders, insects, snakes, rodents, and sometimes other birds. They’ve even been known to capture Rails in marshes and Gophers in fields. In other words, Great Blue Herons are opportunistic hunters.

6. Great Blue Herons Are Great Fishers

Despite having a varied and adaptable diet, Great Blue Herons still prefer to eat fish. As a result, they have perfected their hunting style. Great Blue Herons will stand in shallow water and wait. Whenever a fish comes close, the Heron will throw its head into the water and impale the prey using its beak and jaws. The name for this fishing style is “bill jab.”

7. Great Blue Herons Are Found All Over America but Only Around Water

Great Blue Herons are considered the most widespread Heron species in North America. However, you will only find them around water. Great Blue Herons can be found around lake shores, rivers, ponds, and streams. Occasionally, they will also nest in grassy fields, as long as there is water nearby. They often avoid areas that are commonly frequented by snakes and mammals.

a great blue heron bird in a river
Image Credit: JackBulmer, Pixabay

8. Great Blue Herons Are Pickier Than Some of Their Relatives

Even though Great Blue Herons are the most widespread Heron species, they’re actually pickier concerning location than other Herons and relatives. Gray Herons, for example, prefer wetlands, but they often nest in cities or anywhere else where space is available. The same cannot be said of Great Blue Herons, who simply stick to water environments where they are free from noise and other creatures.

9. “Heronry” Is the Name for Great Blue Heron Nests

Although it may sound goofy, there’s actually a formal name for the Great Blue Heron nests. “Heronry” describes a breeding colony of Herons. Most often, Heronries are found around bodies of water in groups of trees.

10. Great Blue Herons Have Special Feathers That Help Them Stay Clean

Great Blue Herons have special feathers that help them to stay clean. These feathers have a unique powder-down texture that makes it easy to remove the fish slime, oils, and other dirt. These feathers are located on their chest.

How it works is that these feathers continually grow and fray off. The herons will comb through this layer using their middle toes. Through the coaming motion, the powder is spread elsewhere to keep the bird clean.

side view of a great blue heron in a river
Image Credit: Canadian-Nature-Visions, Pixabay

11. Their Feathers Change Based on the Season

Like many other birds, Great Blue Herons change their feathers based on the season. During the breeding season, the feathers are brighter to attract a mate. During the summer, the plumes molt to stay cool. This is pretty common among many bird species.

12. Both Parents Care for the Young

Both parents care for the Great Blue Heron. Before eggs are laid, males will settle on a nesting site and start courting females. Once the females are courted, the males would start to gather sticks so that the female can weave the nest. Both parties help hatchlings until they are able to care for themselves.

13. Great Blue Herons Are NOT Cranes

Often, many people assume that the Great Blue Heron is a type of crane because of their similar body type and hunting pattern. This is not the case. In the US, there are only two types of cranes: Sandhill and Whooping. Cranes have shorter beaks and hold their neck straight. Herons, in contrast, have longer beaks and have an S-shaped neck due to their unique vertebrae.

a great blue heron bird in a river
Image Credit: bryanhanson1956, Pixabay

eagle divider How Do You Identify a Great Blue Heron?

Identifying a Great Blue Heron is relatively easy because of their unique size and appearance. Great Blue Herons are very large with long legs and S-shaped necks, and a thick, dagger-like bill. The head, chest, and wings have a shaggy appearance. The plumage is a subtle blue-gray color.

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Next time you see a Great Blue Heron, you know that it is not a crane. You also know where it gets its name and what it eats. The only thing you have left to do is go out and try to find a Great Blue Heron if you live around bodies of water.

Featured Image Credit: khw80, Pixabay

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.