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Bird Bits: Tidbits about the great blue heron

Posted: July 4, 2014 - 12:01am
Great blue heron parents face a hard road when it comes to raising chicks; 50 percent of hatchlings do not survive to adulthood.   Deanna MacPhail | For the Juneau Empire
Deanna MacPhail | For the Juneau Empire
Great blue heron parents face a hard road when it comes to raising chicks; 50 percent of hatchlings do not survive to adulthood.

Come spring, being a great blue heron parent means that both the male and female are into child rearing for the long haul. The male builds or refurbishes an existing flat nest of sticks. Heron parents incubate their three to six blue-tinted eggs for close to a month. The female lays eggs every few days; those eggs hatch at different times, meaning the chick that’s first hatched is apt to become quite the bully. He or she will hog regurgitated fish, little mammals and aquatic invertebrates delivered by the parents.

Parent herons spend a couple of months feeding and readying their chicks for a tough world. More than half of young great blue herons die before they are a year old. It takes time to gain fishing skills like their the patient stalk and their strike while hunting with a heavy duty spear of a beak. They also have to flip the catch around to eat it whole without choking to death. Once they’re older, they perfect the art of looking dignified while standing three to four feet tall, and on stilts more than 30 feet up in a spruce tree.

Dark-eyed juncos, for comparison’s sake, have a much shorter tenure as parents. They’re now starting on their second of multiple broods.

Into reading tracks along a saltwater or freshwater shoreline? The length of a typical heron foot is between six or eight inches. Two of the three front toes are closer together. Small talons show on the front toes and back toe. The stride spans about eight inches.

• Patricia Wherry is the education chair for the Juneau Audubon Society. She can be reached at

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