I spotted this young Great Blue Heron on the hunt for food in the river not far from where I live in Colorado. You can tell it’s a juvenile by it’s two-toned bill–upper part dark and lower part yellow, and it’s striped throat. Juvenile birds were born this spring or summer so this bird is only a few months old.
It walked very slowly through the shallow water looking in the water for a fish or other food to grab if small enough or spear with their sharp beaks if larger. Great Blue Herons, with their grayish to blue-gray plumage, are often mistaken for Sandhill Cranes. When you see them fly it is easy to tell these birds apart since Great Blue Herons fly with their necks folded in a curved position while the cranes fly with their necks extended straight out.
As soon as it spotted it’s prey it very quickly jabbed it’s bill into the shallow water. With it’s reflection in the water, it looks as though it is jabbing itself in the photo above.
Success–this young bird has learned it’s hunting lessons well as it comes up with a large crawdad (and I saw it nab another large crawdad after this sequence of photos). Those dark dots below it’s bill are large drops of water as I photographed the bird right as it brought it’s prey up out of the river, water dripping from it’s bill.
Next the Great Blue Heron adjusts the crawdad so it can swallow it whole. By the way, crawdads are also called crayfish and they are fairly common in Colorado rivers though many are non-natives that are causing problems for native species.
Gulp–the young heron swallows this good sized meal and it’s neck swells as the food goes down.
Great Blue Herons are found throughout the lower 48 U.S. states, a part of Alaska as well as much of Canada. Though seen along coast lines, they are found inland (like Colorado) along rivers, streams, lakes, ponds and even marshes so most readers have likely seen at least one at some time.
These large birds nest in the tops of large trees. You can see a photo of a nest and more photos that show off their gorgeous plumage in an article I wrote about them here this spring.
Have you ever seen one of these large herons?
Do you have them nearby at a local pond or nearby stream?
If so, have you ever watched them hunting for food?