Great Blue Herons in the winter

Thu, 01/14/2021 - 6:15pm

The following was submitted to The Block Island Times by the Block Island Conservancy:

So far, this winter has been a mild one for Block Island. As a result, some birds that typically move further south for the winter are continuing to stick around the island. One such bird is the great blue heron, a large wading bird that is a partial migrant, meaning the population generally moves south of the northern portions of their range during the wintertime. A few individuals have been spotted on the island recently, usually seen lurking along the edges of ponds. Read on to learn more about this interesting bird and how it weathers the winter on Block Island.

Great blue herons are the largest herons found in North America, reaching a height of 4.5 feet and wingspan of 6.5 feet. Despite this impressive size, the birds only weigh 5 to 6 pounds, due to their hollow bones and slight build. Adults have grayish blue plumage and a black stripe over the eye that extends back to the feather plumes that stick out off the back of the head. They have a long, thick bill that comes to a sharp point that is used for grabbing and spearing their prey. Great blue herons are often seen wading slowly along the edges of ponds or salt marshes hunting for fish, amphibians, or insects in the water.

But what do they do when Block Island’s shallow waters are frozen over? On below-freezing days, you might find great blue herons stalking through the dunes hunting for mice and voles. They use the same technique as when they’re hunting in the water – standing stock-still among the grasses with their s-shaped necks curled in, waiting for an unsuspecting rodent to scurry by before darting out headfirst with a powerful lunge to snap up their prey.

Great blue herons are a treat to spot on Block Island all year long. Keep an eye out for their tall shape in the dunes this winter!