Herons Nesting in Beacon Hill Park
The Great Blue Heron is a large bird commonly found in coastal environments, Photo by Captain Yves
  • May 24, 2019

Great Blue Herons can be found year-round in Victoria and along the British Columbia coast. You may see them along the water hunting for fish.

Heron
The Great Blue Heron is a large bird commonly found in coastal environments, Photo by Captain Yves

Most exciting is the nesting colony in Beacon Hill Park. Just off Douglas Street, near the pond, take a good look at the trees. The nests and birds are quite well hidden in the trees. However, you may see an adult perched in a tree. It’s an unusual sight if you are used to seeing them in shin-deep water, hunting. Spring and Summer is nesting and breeding season, making it the best time of year to try to catch a glimpse of the Beacon Hill Park colony. When Great Blue Heron chicks hatch their bluish eyes are open and they are covered in light grey down. They are able to vocalize at hatching so you may even hear them.

Great Blue Herons are large majestic birds with long legs and necks suitable for hunting in shallow water and tall grass. Their wings span up to 2m (6.5ft) and they can be 1.3m (4.4 ft) tall. Despite their large size they only weigh 5-6 lbs due to their hollow bones!

Great Blue Heron eating a prickleback
Great Blue Heron will hunt for fish at the waters edge. This one caught a Prickleback, an eel-like fish. Photo by Captain Yves

Great Blue Herons are good hunters. They often live near the coast, ponds, or swampy areas. However, they will also hunt in grasslands and agricultural areas. Sometimes they will hunt from a floating bed of kelp. The floating rafts of kelp are habitat for small ocean fish which make a great food source for Great Blue Herons. The higher percentage of rod photo-receptors in their eyes help them to hunt day and night.

Great Blue Herons move slowly, watching prey from above. The birds then strike lighting fast to catch fish, or small mammals like mice and gophers. They have specially shaped neck vertebrae to allow them to strike and snap their prey up from a distance. Great Blue Herons rely on the element of surprise when hunting.

A big threat to the Great Blue Heron chicks are Bald Eagles which will attack the nests for a meal.

A pair of Bald Eagles
A pair of Bald Eagles, natural predators of Great Blue Heron chicks, Photo by Captain Yves, image taken with a telephoto lens and heavily cropped

As mentioned Great Blue Herons nest in trees. A tree may hold multiple nests as Great Blue Herons breed and nest in colonies. Males contribute by collecting nest material and presenting it to the female. The female will weave an elaborate large nest out of the sticks, and will line it with pine needles and moss.

Great Blue Herons can be found across North America. While they are found year-round across the United States and up the British Columbia coast they are only found in Eastern Canada during the summer breeding season. During the winter they may be found as far South as Central America. The oldest recorded Great Blue Heron was over 24 years old!

Great Blue Heron Facts courtesy of The Cornell lab of Ornithology “All about Birds”.

Blog written by Marine Biologist Stefania.

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