As I am sure many of you are, I am finding pure joy in the return of herons to the North Shore, especially Great Blues. North America’s largest herons began arriving about a month ago, shadowing our landscapes with their massive wingspan. In the case of the largest males, their wingspan may measure up to seven feet wide! Stately and elegant, they also remind us of prehistoric flying dinosaurs or baby pterodactyls.
The courtship, mating, and nest building of the magnificent Great Blue Heron is highly ritualized. Great Blues do not mate for life, but are reportedly monogamous during the nesting season (I have observed and filmed differently). The male typically arrives at the nesting site, or heron rookery (also called a heronry), first. He choses either a new nest location or an old nest to rebuild. With his neck fully extended and majestic slow wingbeats, the male flies in great circles around the nesting grounds while calling for a mate. The female perches and calls back, waiting for the just the right fellow to come along.
Once the pair have bonded, the male selects the nesting materials and brings them to the female. The female arranges the material and it can take up to a week to build the nest. During the nest building period, the pair further bond with elegant displays of preening each other’s feathers, bowing, fluffing and rubbing their necks together, twig exchanges, tapping beaks together, and more. And, too, during the nest-building time period, the pair frequently (albeit very briefly) continues to mate.
Love is in the air!