Great Blue Heron Nesting

Feb 17 2015

In February and early March here at The Riverside Motel and surrounding area you can observe the great blue herons building their colonies in the tall trees near the Clearwater River bank or possibly on an island in the Dworshak Reservoir. These colonies, called heronries, can have anywhere from 5-500 nests with each nest reaching as much as 47 inches wide and 37 inches deep. The nests are constructed by the males and are made of sticks. The large, wading birds can be 3-5 feet in length with a wingspan of up to 6 feet. They have slate gray flight feathers, a red-brown neck and thighs with black and white streaks down their front. Their nearly white faces are paired with slate or black plumes running just above the eye to the back of the head. The males and females look virtually identical. During breeding season, their yellowish beaks turn orange. A harsh croak and bill clapping can be heard during this time and also when the birds are having territorial disputes.

The great blue herons are quite adaptable and can remain in colder climates as long as the fish bearing waters remain unfrozen, typically flowing streams, rivers and creeks. Their primary prey is based on availability and abundance and is usually a type of small fish although these birds have been know to feed on shrimp, crab, aquatic insects, rodents and other small mammals. They typically wade in shallow waters waiting for their prey to venture near then spearing them with their sharp bill and swallowing them whole.

If you are an avid bird watcher, heron nesting and feeding is quite a sight! Herons that have been frequently exposed to humans may be more tolerant of your viewing and have even been known to nest is large public parks and greenbelts. It is important to keep your distance though, as repeated human intrusion can result in nest failure with the abandonment of eggs or young. The Great Blue Herons tend to return to their nesting sights year after year but will move their heronries if they need to find a more abundant food source or to avoid predators. Naturalists have set up areas for viewing the birds that are safe and meet regulations. It`s a good idea to bring binoculars, a camera, a sketch pad, warm clothing, snacks and water when planning to bird watch, that way you can settle in and enjoy the view. Please consult our fishing lodge staff for more information on these wonderful birds.

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