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Photo by Tom Grey

Bird of the Month: Great Blue Heron

Become a bird expert! Every month we feature a different bird species of the San Francisco Bay Area. You can learn how to identify local birds and find out fun facts about our amazing feathered friends. Click on the pictures at the bottom of the page to learn about birds from previous months, and check back each month to see the latest species of interest!

Name: Great Blue Heron

Size: 38-54 inches

Wingspan: 66-79 inches

Diet: This bird eats primarily fish but will also eat animals some reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals (such as snakes, frogs, and voles).

Behavior: The Great Blue Heron usually hunts by slowly wading through water, stalking its prey. It captures prey by quickly darting out its head and bill and grabbing the animal. It will also stalk animals on land.

Habitat: The Great Blue Heron lives near water and is usually seen wading in fresh or salt water. This bird can be seen in many sloughs and creeks around the South Bay, including at Mountain View Shoreline Park, Palo Alto Baylands, and around the Environmental Education Center of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Alviso.

Field Markings: Look for a large grey-blue bird having long, dark legs, a yellowish bill, and black stripe above its eye

Fun Facts: An all-white subspecies of the Great Blue Heron is found only in Florida and the Caribbean.

Status: The Great Blue Heron population is strong.

Migratory Route: Information about Great Blue Heron migration is incomplete, but it appears that on the Pacific coast, the birds are non-migratory, while in other parts of the United States they will migrate to the Caribbean and Southeastern United States for the winter.

Additional Reading:

Burnie, David. Eyewitness Books: Bird. London: Dorling Kindersley, 1988.
Chandler, David, et al. World of Animals: Birds. Vol. 14. Danbury, CT: Grolier, 2003.
Weidensaul, Scott. National Audubon Society First Field Guide : Birds. New York: Scholastic, 1998.

Credits:

Field Guide to the Birds of North America. 4th ed. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2002.

Checklist of the Birds of Santa Clara County. Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, 1996.

All About Birds Online Bird Guide. Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Dec. 5, 2005 http://www.birds.cornell.edu/programs/AllAboutBirds/BirdGuide/Great_Blue_Heron.html

Birding at the Bottom of the Bay. 3rd ed. Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, 2002.

Poole, A, et al., eds. The Birds of North America. Philadelphia: Academy of Natural Sciences; Washington, D.C.: The American Ornithologists Union.

Sibley, David Allen. The Sibley Guide to Birds. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.