A Silent Hunter

by Laura Thomas

A large, grey-blue bird is a silent hunter as it moves through the reeds. It can become  a statue when it stands with neck stretched out, hunting on the banks of the water’s edge. This elusive bird is as shy as it is quiet; in fact you may only see it after it has taken flight. Its huge wings, five foot in length and large body with its long legs trailing out behind it, make it seem as if you’re seeing a pre-historic bird, but in reality you are seeing a Blue Heron.

 My husband and I enjoy going out to Murphy Lake, near our home, for we never know what we will see there. On this particular day, as we were sitting near the water’s edge, with a camera in hand. My husband leaned over and whispered to me, “Look, Honey, a heron is in the cattails. Do you see it?”  “Ooh yes”, I said. And at first all we could see was the beck of the heron as it slowly, silently moved through the cattails. Then its head came into view. It saw us and stopped, watching for any danger, ever vigilant. The heron was watching us as closely as we were watching it. I could hear the camera shutter clicking busily as my husband took pictures. Then suddenly the heron was out in the open and it raised both of its wings as it readied for flight. I was spellbound as I watched this magnificent bird take flight. “Did you get that picture?” I ask. “Yes, I believe I did”, my husband said, as he took one last picture of the heron as it flew away.

We decided to come back the next day, wondering if we’d be so lucky as to see the Heron again.  Our second trip was not a disappointment. We found the heron already hunting, standing on the bank. This time the heron wasn’t as shy, as it seemed to know we meant it no harm. We watched as this magnificent bird, slowly, almost impperceptively, stretched its long graceful neck, out over the water. And then it froze, in place like a statue waiting for a fish to come close. The bird stood for some time, in this position just waiting for its breakfast, but with no luck. The heron then decided to wade out into the water, to see if the hunting would be any better. We watched this heron, realizing we were seeing something not often witnessed. When the heron finally left, we also left our observation spot and I decided I wanted to know more about these birds.  Here’s what I found:

Blue Herons have a subtle blue grey plumage. They are a tall elegant bird, standing 3.5 to 4.5 feet tall, with a wing span of 5.5 to 6.5 feet, but despite their large size they only weigh between 5 and 6 pounds. They have long curving necks and long dark legs. In flight they fold their neck back over their shoulders, thereby allowing the five foot plus wings to take deep, lazy beats, with their legs straight out behind them. The heron is found foraging along rivers, lakes and marshes, and sometimes will be seen in fields and wet meadows. They build their nests in trees, ranging from flimsy to elaborate, and add to their nests every year, which can be up to four feet in diameter. Both sexes are similar in color, except at breeding season when the male’s colors are more vibrant and plumes of feathers streak from his crown and his throat. A pair in turn will incubate eggs for about 28 days and each care for the young for up to 60 days.  These great birds are common throughout the U.S. Rocky Mountains. It was a pleasure to be able to observe this great bid in action and to watch it in its environment as it was hunting. An experience we will remember for a long time.

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