Tacony Creek Creatures: Great Blue Herons

Jamilee Hoffman
Jul 20, 2023

Project: Tacony Creek Park Learning Trail, Client: William Penn Foundation

Intern Emmanuel Hampton continues his Tacony Creek Creatures series with our mascot, the Great Blue Heron! You can see this awe-inspiring bird in the creek and flying above the park. You can also see it on our van, Creekforce 1 and it’s one of the birds featured in our Bird Murals along the trail under Whitaker Avenue. Check out our first blog in the series of The Red Fox, and the next one is the Painted Turtle

Stop by the River Alive Learning Trail to see the heron, fox, and other creatures up close. River Alive Learning Trail free program information here.

Written by: Emmanuel Hampton, TTF Intern

There are a variety of birds present in Tacony Creek Park but there’s only one that’s our mascot: the Great Blue Heron!

These are the largest herons in North America and are most iconic with their white, grey, and blue color along with frayed feathers. With its sharp, piercing bill, S-shaped neck, and long legs, it walks through the water and hunts its aquatic prey.

Photo taken at the Little Estero Critical Wildlife Area at Fort Myers Beach, Florida.

Great blue herons are carnivores that are known to hunt and feed on various species of fish. Despite being classified as piscivores (fish-eating animals), they are also capable of eating frogs, baby alligators, salamanders, insects, rodents, and even other smaller birds! 

Because of their piscivorous nature, they tend to live near freshwater sources like ponds, lakes, meadows, and marshes. Their nests are usually in isolated places to protect themselves from predators.

With eyes on the side of their heads instead of the front, they have 360-degree vision and their rod-type photoreceptors help them see more in the dark, making them hard to sneak up on.

Just like flamingos, cranes, and wading birds, herons sleep while standing up instead of laying down, to keep in body heat.

Male great blue herons are slightly larger than females and are in charge of choosing a spot for a nest. Female great blue herons lay about 3 to 6 eggs in mating season. Their soon-to-be newborns are called chicks or nestlings. The eggs hatch and in 7 to 11 weeks, the new herons are old enough to leave the nest. They do this every year and usually go to the same spot. 

 A great blue heron is aggressive and won’t hesitate to attack something bigger than itself. They are capable of killing a human thanks to their sharp bills. Like other large birds, the great blue heron spreads its wings and makes a defensive stance when threatened by a bigger opponent. This is to make itself look bigger and more menacing. It attacks by lunging with its piercing bill and stabbing its foe. Even so, Great blue herons still have weaknesses.

Since Great blue herons are rather heavy birds, they take off at lower angles and are slower to do so, making them easier to be tackled or pounced on. Their hollow bones let them fly but at a cost of durability.

They are very brave birds but lack the defenses to take a hit from anything too strong. Because of their hollow bones, they’re more susceptible to breaking their bones.

Great blue herons have a very large handful of predators from which they need to make sure they steer clear. These are mostly animals known to eat large birds: Coyotes, bobcats, crows, bald eagles, and bigger animals. Most of their predators have to be precise and fast to catch the blue heron before they start flying. Predators who are good at hiding and pinning are the most successful in capturing their feathery prey.

Without any warning, time to think, or bones strong enough to work under pressure, the Great Blue Heron can become prey. 

Great Blue Herons are wonderful creatures to spot and find! 

Web sources: Aquarium of the Pacific, PA Game Commission, Audubon Field Guide, All About Birds, AZ animals, Bird Skeletal System

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