NatureMapping Animal Facts for Kids

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
Species Code: ARHE

distribution map What they look like: The Great Blue Heron is the largest and most widespread heron in North America. It is a large bird, with a slate-gray body, chestnut and black accents, and very long legs and neck. Great Blue Herons are very tall and stand 3 to 4.5 feet high. In flight, the bird looks huge, with a six-foot wingspan.

Great Blue Heron photo by Tim Knight

Where they live:
In Washington, the Great Blue Heron is common in marshes, mud flats, and agricultural areas at low to mid elevations on both sides of the Cascade crest. They nest colonially in trees near water and then disperse to feeding areas. Along river valleys they may be found at fairly high elevations, for example, along the Skagit River near Ross Lake. Click the range map to learn more about the distribution of Great Blue Herons in Washington.

Great Blue Heron photo by Tim Knight

What they eat: Great Blue Herons feed on fish, amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates, small mammals, and even other birds. In Washington, much of their winter hunting is on land, with voles making up a major portion of their winter diet. (Seattle Audubon Society)

Behavior: When foraging, they stand silently along the shore, waiting for prey to come by, then they stab the prey with a quick lunge of the bill. They will also stalk prey slowly and deliberately.

Both parents feed the young. The young birds can first fly at about 60 days old, but they continue to return to the nest and are fed by the adults for another few weeks. The adults pair-bond during the nesting season.

Great Blue Heron photo by Natures Pics

Nesting: Nesting colonies are typically found in mature forests, on islands, or near mudflats. Great blue herons do best when they are free of human disturbance and have foraging areas near by.

Great Blue Herons typically breed in colonies containing a few to several hundred pairs. Nest building begins in February when a male chooses a nesting territory and actively displays to attract a female. The large nest is usually built high up in a tree. The male gathers sticks for the female who constructs a platform nest lined with small twigs, bark strips, and conifer needles. The female lays 2-6 pale blue eggs, then both parents incubate them for 25-29 days (4 weeks) until the young hatch. The parents bring food to young at the nest for two months before the young can fly and continue feeding the birds for a few weeks after fledging the nest.

Did you know?

  • Great Blue Herons look enormous in flight, with a six-foot wingspan
  • Both parents take turns incubating the eggs for 4 weeks
  • In flight, a Great Blue Heron usually holds its head close to its body with the neck bent.
  • The young can first fly at about 60 days old
Great Blue Heron photo by Tim Knight

An adult Great Blue Heron near Portage Bay in Seattle.

More information: BirdWeb: Great Blue Heron     All About Birds: Great Blue Heron

More photos: Great Blue Heron Photos on the Wildlife Web

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Photos: Tim Knight and Natures Pics

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