Herons – my husband and I love herons. It is not unusual for us to sit in our canoe for a couple of hours watching a heron, taking photos. They always remind us of being a little prehistoric, don’t you think?
We have photographed herons all over Ontario. On the waterways, in ditches, on dirt roads, from our canoe, you name it. They don’t weight as much as you might think, maybe 5-6 pounds. I think their height makes up for their lack of bulk. They can grow to be anywhere from approximately 38-50 inches tall. They are the largest heron found in Canada and they can fly up to 55 kms an hour, which is quite impressive. Their lifespan is about 15 years but one was recorded as being 24 years old, not sure how they found that out!
They can live in freshwater and saltwater habitats and as I mentioned are quite often found in swamps, ditches and shorelines of lakes
We were fortunate, this year, to find a heronry, a first for both of us. We had tried traveling to different spots over the years but were disappointed, this year we were not disappointed. They were quite a distance away from us but it was still fascinating to see them sit way up high in trees alongside their nests and young.
They nest mainly in trees but there are other places they will nest such as the ground and elevated platforms. They normally go to the same site every year. A heronry is more than one nest and family, you can see anywhere from dozens to hundreds of nests in one location. The males will pick the site and get the materials. Now in heron families, the male and female will both incubate the eggs and they will have 1-2 broods and 2-6 eggs at a time. The heronry we saw this year was quite a distance away but I feel like I only saw one baby per nest. But maybe the rest were huddled down and only one at time was allowed to look out.
We have never seen a heron at night but apparently they have fantastic vision that allows them to hunt at night as well as daytime. Honestly we have never looked for a heron at night before so maybe we should start.
The photo below I took while we were canoeing at Marten River Provincial Park. We came around a corner and he was standing there and I guess we startled him and off he went. Hence the shot from behind. But I like it. Their legs are so long.
We normally see them catching fish or frogs but they will eat insects, other small mammals, birds, baby ducks and more. Not too fussy these guys!
If you see a heron cleaning his chest or her chest, it’s because they have specialized feathers that are always growing and they need to wash off the remains of their meals. I think the fellow below took the chest cleaning a little too seriously. I don’t even know where his head is.
I was reading an article that said if you have a pond with fish in it, for example Koi fish, they will feed your fish. What? Yes, they will regurgitate into a pond and of course the fish will smell that because it smells of FISH and come running. Then they get eaten. Herons are very smart. Fish are very dumb.
Great blue herons do migrate out of Canada during the winter. I mean really, who doesn’t want to do that? But herons living on the Pacific or Atlantic coasts will stay all year round.
Surprisingly, the adult Herons have very few enemies. Now the eggs and the young do have predators; crows, ravens, gulls, eagles, raccoons and a few others.
However, in the fall of 2018 we were camping in Algonquin Park and we went to a favourite spot of ours. As we were leaving, I heard this commotion and we looked and a heron flew in and had a very rough landing by the shore of the pond. We watched him and noticed he could not stand up, his legs were straight out behind him. Long story short, we contacted the Park Warden and the resident biologist, Allison. They came and looked at the heron and said there wasn’t anything they could do, it was a form of botulism caused by a bacterium. This affects their nervous system which paralyzes their wings, legs and necks and eventually they die. Sometimes it can be treated. Allison told us that one year, on one of the lower Great Lakes, there was about 7,000 loons, grebes and other birds all found dead from botulism. It is caused by the birds eating polluted fish and it was heartbreaking to hear about. So the poor heron had to stay where he was and we checked on him the next two days and the third day he had passed away. What I thought was odd is that he was not attacked nor eaten. Was it because other animals sensed he had a sickness? Or is that just my romanticism showing?
In the photo below, you can see his legs sticking out behind him.
We were in Restoule Provincial Park (Ontario) last year and we paddled every day we were there. Wonderful paddling; we could paddle from one lake, down a river and into another lake. The wildlife in the river was terrific. We spent a lot of time watching this one heron, what a character. I love the photos I got of this guy/girl. Not sure what he was doing but he was quite dramatic.
So that’s it for herons, hope you enjoyed my photos and stories.
Stay safe and let’s hope paddling weather gets here soon.