great blue heron is adapted for year round living along Puget
Sound. It wades in shallow waters, forages in eelgrass meadows,
hunts small mammals in fields, and nests in large shoreline
trees. Great blue herons nest in groups called "heronries."
Some heronry locations along the Sound include Samish Island,
Camano Island, and Hartstene Island.
The large number of fish attracted to eelgrass meadows is the staple of the great blue heron diet. Many heronries
are located next to eelgrass beds. These feeding areas are vital
to the survival of the colonies. Great blue herons can be seen
hunting in eelgrass meadows at Padilla Bay, Bellingham Bay,
and Quilcene Bay.
The great blue heron seldom stabs prey. Rather, the heron
uses its bill like barbecue tongs and clamps on prey.
Adults are 4 ft. tall with a 6 ft. wingspan - but most only
weigh about 5 lbs. How can that be? Heron bones are hollow.
The great blue heron has special neck vertebrae that create
an "s" shape. This bone structure allows the neck to curl
up like a spring to attack prey. It also allows the heron
to fold its neck while flying.
Herons build nests in a variety of tree species including:
alder, cedar, hemlock, Douglas fir, spruce, cottonwood, and
hawthorn. But most often, herons nest in big alders over 75
first glance, the long-legged herons might appear awkward
nesting in trees; but they are adept at weaving nests in high
tree canopies. With long toes, they grip branches and twigs
and construct nests side by side "condominium" style. The
size of the heronry grows with the amount of food available
In general, herons select nesting sites away from human
activity, in quiet clusters of trees. If humans disturb heronries
during breeding season, several studies show, the reproductive
rate of the colony can drop or adult herons may move the entire
colony. Bald Eagles may also attack heron chicks and cause
a colony to move.
Herons also seek undisturbed areas for winter hunting.
In the fall and winter, many great blue herons survive by
catching meadow voles - a tiny mouse-like mammal that tunnels
in grass. Herons stalk these small mammals in quiet meadows,
marshes, and farm fields.
many, the great blue heron is a symbol of pristine Puget Sound.
The heron is also an important biological indicator of the
health of Puget Sound shorelines. Herons need abundant small
fish, as frequently found in eelgrass meadows, and older shoreline
trees for breeding. As development spreads along the Sound,
shoreline trees are removed, nesting sites are disturbed,
and eelgrass beds are destroyed.
You can help
preserve heron habitat...
comes off your boat and your land can pollute. Prevent water
- Protect eelgrass meadows.
pets away from herons and under control.
visiting the beach or boating, give herons and heronries
plenty of space. Avoid going ashore near a nesting heron
information source: The Great Blue Heron, R. Butler, UBC Press.
Blue Heron, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research