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The Great Blue Heron

is a picturesque, long-legged wading bird. Ardea Herodias is his Latin name, and many call him the Blue Crane. He is not a crane as cranes fly with necks outstretched like geese. The great blue heron flies with his long neck looped and the slender, black-crested head resting almost on the shoulders. In flight, his long legs trail straight behind the short tail. Powerful wings beat slowly, steadily, and almost rhythmically. When standing on his stilt like legs, the heron reaches a height of four feet, although he weighs something less than eight pounds. He is a marvelous fisherman. Patiently the solemn bird stands perfectly motionless in shallow water, fully exposed to view. Large, staring eyes, set low and to the front of the head, watch for fish, frogs, eels, salamanders, and water insects. The strong, yellow bill is held in readiness. Suddenly, quicker than the wink of an eye, the neck streaks out and the dagger-bill does its work. The squirming prey is quickly dashed to death and swallowed whole. A slow, high- stepping stroll through the shallows is another profitable method of fishing.

Lone hunters through late summer, fall, and early winter, great blue herons return each year to old rookeries to mate and raise their families. They nest in colonies; often several pairs close together in the tops of tall trees of mangrove swamps and swampy, wooded waterways. In some marshy areas, the nest is built on a platform of rushes above the shallow water. Wary and suspicious, the herons frequent secluded spots.

A wide platform of jumbled sticks, carelessly thrown together but with a soft lining of dry grass, cradles from three to six blue-green eggs. Most young birds which come from the egg already clothed in down are ready to run about and search for their food in a few hours. Baby herons are covered with down when hatched, but are dependent on their parents for several weeks. The grotesque, scrawny, hungry-looking creatures sit on their slim haunches or hop about on their platform. The parents alternately flap away and return to the nests to feed their young on predigested food.

Gray pin feathered bodies slowly acquire flight feathers. Young birds have no crests, but stiff hair like feathers stand up on top of the heads, which widI the long bills and staring eyes gives them a fierce appearance. They do a lot of limb walking before they learn to fly.

The families separate after the nesting season and solitary herons visit far places. Hardly a water area in America but sees at least one great blue heron each year, for their range covers most of the continent. Kelp beds, salt marshes, ponds, inland lakes, rivers, hills, wet pastures, and irrigated fields attract them.

Fish is a favorite delicacy, but they also consume numerous mice, gophers, moles, grasshoppers, and other harmful insects, which should compensate tor the few game fish taken. When northern ponds and waters freeze, the great blue heron moves south. Some return to southern refuges; some go to salt marshes near the oceans; others migrate to Mexico and South America.

Great blue herons are commonly seen in many areas, but due to their large size and distinctive slate-blue coloring, hunters frequently kill them.

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