Little Blue Heron
[ Hydranassa caerulea ]
House of Twigs
||Height: 2 to 2 ½ feet; Wing Span: 3 ½ feet
||Small fish, amphibians, and aquatic invertebrates.
||Silversides, smelt, crickets, and mealworms
||South to southeastern coasts, New Jersey to Mexico. Winters in Central America.
||Swamps, estuaries, rivers, ponds, and lakes
Little blue herons aren’t known for their nest building abilities. In fact, some might say their nests are down right sloppy. Flimsy in appearance, a little blue heron’s nest is best described as a platform of sticks with a lining of green vegetation. Heron’s are also colonial nesters, which means several nest in the same area of dense tree growth.
Females lay between 1 and 6 pale, blue-green eggs and both parents incubate them for just over three weeks. Chicks hatch covered in white down with their eyes already partially open. Immediately after hatching, heron chicks can hold their head up. Little blue heron chicks are fed regurgitated food from both parents and leave then nest when they’re between 35 and 40 days old.
White is the new blue
Despite the name, not all little blue herons are blue. As adults, little blue herons are slate blue with a purple-maroon head and neck. However, chicks are born completely white and remain so for their first year of life. In fact, this pale and opposite color works to a little heron’s advantage when it comes to blending in and eating out.
Snowy egrets – a much larger heron species – tolerate the presence of immature little blue herons. This allows an inexperienced heron to learn from the best and ultimately catch more fish. Also, because some of the largest egret and heron species are white, sporting a similar plumage is a great way to blend in with the flock and remain protected from predators.
Shall we dance?
Male little blue herons are a bit of a showoff and court would be mates through dance. The dance involves the male stretching his neck out and pointing his bill straight into the air. He then crouches, snapping his slender, dainty down-curved bill, sways his neck back and forth, vocalizing the entire time. If a female heron approaches, she does so aggressively at first, but the dance ends with the pair grooming each other, necks entwined.
Little Blue Heron at Brookfield Zoo
The Swamp is home to Brookfield Zoo’s lone female heron. Born July 7, 1989 at Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, she’s most often perching in the branches near the back of the first exhibit.