A Great Blue Heron

By Dan Weisz

Besides seeing the bats fly out from their roosts under the Ina Road Bridge and besides seeing a Great Egret flying back and forth from the water under the bridge to the trees along the river, I also was able to watch a Great Blue Heron calmly fishing in the water.  Here are a few shots to show his dinnertime activity in the Santa Cruz River.  As a reminder, here is why the river is running year-round at this spot:  https://sonoraninstitute.org/resource/living-river-report-2019/

While the Great Egret always remained in the water above the ‘falls’, the Great Blue Heron remained in the churning water at the bottom of the falls.  I’m not sure how it could see a small fish cascading down the water much less be able to snatch it out of the water, but the Heron sure seemed to know what it was doing.

Great Blue Herons hunt by wading slowly or standing still while stalking fish.  When they see prey, they thrust their neck and head  at lightning speed as they stab or grab their prey.  Here, the bird drives its head through the spray and force of the stream to snag a bite to eat.

You can see a tiny fish at the end of its beak.  This is likely an immature Great Blue Heron.  The darker bill would be orange-yellow in an adult, and the immature has dark streaking on its neck.

Here is another catch.  Can you imagine trying to catch a fish that size as it swims or falls through the waterfalls with the force of the river? 

Great Blue Herons are the largest of North American Herons. They’ll stand up to 4.5 feet tall with a wingspan of over 6 feet, and yet weigh perhaps only 6 pounds thanks to the hollow bones, a feature all birds share.  That long neck gives the birds a great reach when they hunt. When they fly, their necks are curled into a tight “S” shape.

Here is a profile of the Great Blue Heron in front of the foam at the bottom of the falls.  Birdnote has a nice piece on Great Blue Herons:  https://www.birdnote.org/listen/shows/great-blue-heron-alone-again 

The bird continued hunting over and over again, returning to the fast water.

See that fish in there?  I sure didn’t but the Great Blue Heron did.

And one last look at this beautiful bird in front of the soft water.

One final listen to the Great Blue Heron at Birdnote:  https://www.birdnote.org/listen/shows/great-blue-heron-meets-t-rex Perhaps I’ll see this bird again later in the year.

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