I often walk down Highway 19 on my way to the Arb, and I always keep an eye out for a friend of mine– he’s a lovely blue-gray color, and likes to stand in the water and rocks in the little Lyman Lakes waterfall next to the bridge. He’s a Great Blue Heron, and stands in those waters like a statue to hunt for anything small enough to eat, from fish to amphibians to small mammals.
Great Blue Herons are quite large birds, standing around 4 feet tall and having wingspans from five and a half to six and a half feet! They can be seen anywhere in the US, and even throughout most of Mexico and central America. I’ve seen their nesting colonies in Houston, my hometown– hundreds of pairs can nest together in trees, and it’s a sight to behold!
My friend in the Arb stands and flies very quietly, and sometimes I don’t even notice that he’s nearby until a great dark shape rushes away. The way he flies is very beautiful, too– he folds his long neck into a tight S-shape, and has slow, long wing beats with his long legs trailing behind him. Sometimes if I get a bit closer, I can see the long black feathers that make up his head plume, and the super sharp beak he can use to impale his prey.
Although they are such large birds capable of eating many things, they are still prey to many creatures. Their eggs are vulnerable to predation by turkey vultures, crows, ravens, red-tailed hawks, and especially raccoons, a common egg thief! And as young birds or even adults, they may still be attacked by a bold bald eagle or great horned owl, although this is less common.
If you see my tall friend in the Arb or the Lyman Lakes, say hello for me!
–Klara Gabriela Heuchert ‘22, for the Cole Student Naturalists