Living Sanibel: Great blue heron
The great blue heron is the largest and most widespread heron in North America. A magnificent bird to watch, this skilled hunter can be found throughout Southwest Florida. It has adapted well to human environments and can often be found leaning over open bait wells at marinas or begging for handouts at local fishing piers. Migratory herons, which frequent the region during winter, tend to be far more skittish than the resident herons.
Although there is a white morph called the white morph of the great blue heron, its range does not extend as far as Southwest Florida, though it can be readily found in the Florida Keys and may be seen rarely in southern Lee and Collier County. There is also a mixed breed, known as Wrdemann’s heron, that is a meld of the blue and white morphs.
Dieting mostly on fish, which it spears with amazing precision, the great blue heron also eats mice, lizards, and snakes and has even been observed feeding on hatchling alligators. On rare occasions a great blue will choke to death when attempting to eat a fish or animal too large to swallow.
An injured or captured great blue heron must be handled with extreme caution. It has been known to drive its long, powerful beak into a person’s eye. Covering its head with a towel or t-shirt is always advised if you come across a sick or injured bird.
When disturbed, the great blue heron lets loose with a very loud squawk that can be quite alarming. It is monogamous, nesting in large single-species colonies. When discovered these colonies should not be disturbed, as any intrusion could result in the agitated chicks falling from their nests where they will be preyed upon by raccoons, otters, and bobcats. The adult bird is sometimes taken by alligators. Overall, the great blue heron is thriving.
This is an excerpt from The Living Gulf Coast – A Nature Guide to Southwest Florida by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at all the Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry’s and your favorite online sites.