Great Blue Heron’s habitat continues to grow locally

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Bird of prey has thrived since arriving in area in the early 1990s

By Sharon Warner

The accompanying photograph of a first year Great Blue Heron, with a fish in its mouth, was part of an observed episode that took place on a bitterly cold winter day.

This bird was out in the middle of a deep hole of water on Guist Creek Lake in Shelby County. The lake was solidly frozen, except for this little patch of open water that the Great Blue was not allowing to freeze, due to his or her activities.

The title of this photo is "Ice Fishing" and this was being done out in the elements of severe winter weather without the benefits us humans use to ice fish. Benefits, such as a saw to cut a hole in the ice, live bait to entice the fish to bite on our hook, maybe a portable heater and up in the North Country even portable huts or buildings.

This particular Great Blue Heron was doing his or her best to stand on the solid ice shelf edge and catch an unlucky fish, using its long neck and sharp beak without plunging in the icy cold waters of Guist Creek Lake. Each effort, without getting frigidly wet, resulted in failure.

However, each time that a head long plunge into the water was made, a fish was caught. Since the Great Blue Heron does not have webbed or lobbed feet for swimming, it took a difficult, concentrated effort to get back on solid ice. So with most all of the bodies of water frozen solid for a considerable length of time, this young Great Blue Heron had solved a life threatening situation, involving food supply.

The Great Blue Heron was seldom seen in our area until the early 1990's, when it started showing up. About the only heron that inhabited local creeks, ponds and lakes, was the much smaller Green Heron or Shike-Poke, as we called it.

However, in recent times, the Great Blue Heron is now the species that is most frequently seen. It is also the largest of the herons with a length of 46 inches and a wing span of 6 feet.

In flight, you will always see the Great Blue with its neck coiled, except in initial take-off from stream banks, when the neck is stretched out straight, temporarily.

Because of that straight neck maneuver, an observer might mistake the Great Blue Heron for the similar sized and colored Sandhill Crane, which always flies with an extended neck. Also, when the heron is flushed into flight, you will usually hear a very deep, hoarse, trumpeting or croaking "FRAAHNK" or it can be a hoarse, guttural squawk.

Great Blue Herons nest in colonies that can range from a few to as many as 700 nests, but once in a while they will nest individually. The colonies are composed of only Great Blue Herons, and I have found three in Shelby County and one in Henry County.

The one colony in Henry County is on Drennon Creek, just above its intersection with the Kentucky River. The three colonies in Shelby County are on Clear Creek just west of Popes-Corner Road, on Bullskin Creek, west of the KY 55 road crossing and on the west side of Guist Creek Lake north of KY 1779.

Nesting usually begins in March and is in a flimsy to compact platform of large sticks lined with fine twigs and green leaves.

The female lays 3-6 eggs and they are incubated for 28 days by both sexes and can be as high as 130 feet in a tree. They also seem to have a preference for Sycamore Trees.

I believe one of the reasons that the Great Blue Heron is increasing is because of their varied diet, which can consist of just about anything they can catch and overpower. Their diet includes fish, snakes, mice, frogs, insects, small mammals and maybe even small marsh birds and other prey.

So when you see a large bird flying gracefully, with slow wing beats, arched wings and a coiled neck you will immediately know that you are seeing the Great Blue Heron, in The Great Outdoors.