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Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

By C.M.Shorter
Florida Everglades
Great Blue Heron
Florida Everglades Great Blue Heron
Pictures of Great Blue Herons

The Great Blue Heron has the unique distinction of being the largest wading bird in the Florida Everglades standing over 4 feet in height with a 70 inch wingspan. These huge birds have a long, thick yellow bill with adults displaying a white crown and face with a black plume extending beyond the back of their head. Overall plumage color is blue-grey with black shoulders. Their neck, like many of the larger aquatic wading birds has a special vertebrae that creates an "S" shape curve which is folded onto their backs during flight. It is an amazing fact that for their size, the Great Blue Heron weighs only 5 lbs due to their hollow bone structure.

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Great Blue Herons feed using their strong bills like tongs clamping onto prey using their unique neck structure like a spring to catch their prey. Another species found in the Everglades is the Sand-Hill Crane, although similar in coloring they are not quite so large. The Great Blue Heron can be seen living among the land birds that frequent the drier hardwood hammock areas. These smaller colorful birds - the Cardinals, Blue Jays, Meadowlarks, Bob-Whites and Red-Bellied Woodpeckers are more common than the Great Blue Heron and these colorful birds make the Everglades their home year round.

Great Blue Heron construct massive nests built high up in trees over 75 ft. from the ground, often staggered throughout the higher tree branches in their own natural Florida condominium style of living. With range throughout the United States the Great Blue Heron can be found from the mangrove swamps of Florida's Everglades as far north as Puget Sound. They prefer tall hardwood trees like Hemlock, Douglas Fir, Spruce, Cottonwood and the high canopy of the Cedar Alder trees where, in spite of their size they move about through the branches gracefully with their long legs. The Great Blue Heron is a very important biological indicator species throughout its range. Study of an "indicator species" can tell scientists much about the health of the entire surrounding ecosystem.

Great Blue Heron have huge appetites, dismissing the old saying to "Eat like a bird". They tend to gather in not only in coastal waterways, but also in meadows, fields and farmland areas with abundant food supplies eating primarily fish, crustaceans, frogs, lizards and snakes. These opportunistic feeders frequently feed on small mammals - rats and voles flushing them out of tall meadow grasses with their long beaks and make meals of smaller birds if given a chance. Long heralded by conservationists as a pristine example of one of nature's finest aviary specimens, the Great Blue Heron deserves our continued protection and dedication to preservation of their habitat.

More on Florida Everglades:
Florida Everglades | Pictures of Florida Everglades | Map of Florida Everglades | Animals Florida Everglades | Marjory Stoneman Douglas | Everglades Endangered Species
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