It’s nesting season in our region for year-round birds and returning migrants. But what goes on at a nest? Returning nice blue herons (Ardea herodias) provide us a glimpse.
That’s not to say that it’s simple to witness life at a heron’s nest. The swamps and ponds that nice blue herons select are often pretty inaccessible. But these herons are seen due to measurement. They’re massive birds, about 4 toes tall with a 6-foot wingspan. They make massive stick nests, excessive in useless timber in the midst of a pond or swamp. Nests could be up to 4 toes huge and virtually as deep.
Great blue herons nest in colonies with many nests. The herons sometimes spend a lot time standing of their nests. They use nests for about 4 months, mid-March to mid-July. By comparability, if you happen to watch a robin’s nest, the chicks hatch after 2 weeks and are grown and gone after one other 2 weeks, quickly after you notice they’re there.
What’s to see? First, the herons return in March. Existing nests may have some refurbishing after the winter. As with many different birds, male nice blue herons arrive first. They take a look at nests and declare one or begin a brand new one. They’ll stand of their nests, awaiting females and guarding it from different males. They sometimes return to the identical colony, however not essentially to the identical nest.
Females arrive per week or two later. Pairs type and stand round collectively on the nest, however they might not be the identical two companions as earlier than. Pair bonding includes varied courtship actions, which frequently embody one heron, often the male, flying off and discovering a stick to current to the opposite heron in a “stick dance” show on the nest. Pairs can typically be seen interacting and even mating, both on the nest or close by.
Eventually there’s much less standing, as one of many pair sits low within the nest, warming eggs and later younger chicks, whereas the opposite forages. The two take turns on the nest and could be seen greeting each other and switching off as one returns and the opposite leaves. Great blue herons don’t sing, however you would possibly hear occasional squawks or see and listen to a pair clacking their payments (https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Great_Blue_Heron/sounds).
Chicks turn into seen in May and June. At first, little beaks seem above the rim of the nest. In the early days, each mother and father feed the chicks by regurgitating meals. There could also be 3 or 4 chicks, of considerably totally different sizes as a result of eggs are laid two days aside however the mother and father begin incubating with the primary egg, so eggs hatch at totally different occasions. Chicks in several nests could also be at totally different phases.
The chicks make noise, and as they develop, each mother and father deliver them meals, sometimes fish. The fish are often massive sufficient for the chicks to share, so sibling competitors isn’t often fierce. Heads seem above the nest, and finally the younger herons could be seen – you guessed it – standing within the nest. They stretch their wings, work together, and later stand on close by branches.
After two months or so, when the younger herons are concerning the measurement of their mother and father and ready to fly, they go away the nest. They might not go far, and typically return to the nest after foraging with a guardian. But all quickly turns into quiet in July.
For many years Westborough had a thriving nice blue heron colony in Mill Pond, with about 40 nests within the Nineteen Nineties. This colony disappeared about 15 years in the past because the useless timber within the pond gave out. Now we’re fortunate to have a comparatively a brand new colony with about eight nests in a swampy space at Hoccomocco Pond. Other colonies are tucked away in wetlands in different cities in our region.
Watch the sides of native ponds and swamps for excellent blue herons fishing. They do that by – sure, standing round. For such massive birds, they’re fairly inconspicuous, thanks to the camouflage of their blue-grey coloring and their stillness. They sometimes fish alone, day or evening, by ready and awaiting prey – fish, frogs, crayfish, or any small creature – which they seize with a fast strike or seize with their massive invoice. Sometimes they stroll slowly by way of the shallows, stalking or presumably stirring up prey. Adults make extra profitable catches than juveniles, however the kids study with follow.
Other birds typically use nice blue heron nests. Tree swallows, home sparrows, or grackles would possibly nest among the many sticks on the underside of an energetic nest. In January, lengthy earlier than the herons return, an ideal horned owl would possibly transfer right into a heron nest and lift a chick or two.
Enjoy our nice blue herons, whether or not you see them at a nest or alongside a shore. Respect and shield our many ponds and swamps which offer nesting and foraging habitats for them.
Nature Notes is written for the Westborough Community Land Trust and re-published on-line by the Community Advocate.
What else would possibly you see outdoors in nature as of late? Check out the WCLT Nature Notes articles listed for these months in our on-line month-to-month index.
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