The great blue heron is a member of the Ardeidae family, which includes herons and egrets. This family is distinguished by its long, pointed bills, stilt-like legs and slender, bendable necks. The fannini subspecies of the great blue heron occupies coastal British Columbia. These herons have adapted to a non-migratory lifestyle, unlike other great blue herons across Canada which migrate. These majestic birds can reach 4 feet in height, with a wingspan of up to 6 feet long. Herons usually nest in colonies with many nests occupying the same tree frequently. These colonies are known as heronries, and can have several hundred breeding pairs at times in the larger populations. Occasionally, herons will also nest in smaller groups with only a few or even a single nest. Their nest locations tend to be situated along the shoreline in trees near eelgrass beds. Most often they select large Alder or Maple trees, but will also use Black cottonwood, Douglas fir, Western red cedar, and Western hemlock trees.
Photo credits: 1. SSIC 2. Simon Henson 3. Laura Matthias 4. Todd Carnahan
Herons forage primarily in shallow waters with eelgrass beds, quietly hunting for various species of fish as their main source of food. They will also hunt in fields for small mammals. Declining heron populations have raised the awareness of conservation and stewardship efforts for this bird. Human (and other) disturbances can impact the reproductive rate of a colony and cause them to move to another location entirely. A nesting heron colony should never be disturbed. In winter time, leaving heron hunting grounds undisturbed is also important, as they choose quiet locations to stalk their prey. Preserving shoreline trees, foliage, and especially eelgrass beds is imperative for the continued survival of heron colonies on the coast. Care should also be taken to avoid polluting the shorelines or waterbodies, which can negatively impact water quality.