February 9, 2022

Native Fauna of the Month: Great Blue Heron

As you walk along the banks of the Eno River, it is common to see a Great Blue Heron standing stock still in the water. Its eyes are constantly scanning the murky depths of the river, searching for flickers of light reflecting from fish scales. Suddenly, its head shoots down into the water! It pulls out a catfish for its next meal. 

Great Blue Herons are the largest species of heron in North America, with a height of around 4.5 feet and an impressive wingspan of 6.5 feet! They are known for their blue-gray feathers and a bold, black stripe over the eye of the adults. Their beak is bright yellow and shaped like a spear point. 

These beautiful birds are found throughout North Carolina. From the Piedmont to the Outer Banks, Great Blue Herons will take to any shallow waters where prey is abundant. They prefer to hunt for fish but snakes, frogs, salamanders, small rodents, turtles, and even other birds are all fair game. Hunting at night is not a problem for these birds due to the high amount of rod-type photoreceptors in their eyes. Great Blue Herons will build large nests in the treetops from sticks and debris. They lay 3 to 5 eggs that hatch within a month. 
In most cases herons are silent, but if you startle one they will take flight and call out with a loud croak!  

We were lucky enough to find an adolescent Great Blue Heron standing on the ice of the Eno mill race. Perhaps it had found a hole to catch some fish through. In the coming months we hope to see more herons during our 2022 spring camp session.  

As the end of winter approaches, more animals will be active. Head out on a hike — you might be surprised what you find!