One of the pleasures for Shirley and me, as we paddle our canoe around Alta Lake, is the sight of three or four of these herons at various places along the shoreline. They seem always to be in charge of their situation. The birds are not hard to see since they are typically about a metre high and not unduly alarmed by our passing. They can also be seen at other lakes in and around Whistler, and sometimes in flight over the village and elsewhere.
The Great Blue feeds on small fish about half the length of its bill, and has two chief fishing strategies. Most often, it waits patiently at a favourite location and spears fish viciously as they swim by, occasionally moving to a nearby spot if action palls. Sometimes, it will flush fish out of hiding places by wading around in the weeds. In any event, rushing around is not its game, until the moment to strike arrives!
Very occasionally, this species has been observed diving under water, submerging its head while hovering, or swimming around for surface fish.
The birds nest near the top of trees. Their homes, which are about a metre across, take a pair a week or so to construct. Three to five eggs are laid, of which two or three may survive predation and the hostility of their own siblings. Herons work in shifts; by day dad guards the nest while mum hunts; at night it is turnabout. Eggs and young are attacked by crows, ravens, gulls and other birds of prey, as well as by raccoons. Cold, wet weather can be deadly.
Herons are a sociable lot, sticking together in heronries (nest sites) and even on the fishing grounds when necessary. We are living in a good place to see and enjoy them!
Monthly Bird Walk – The next bird walk will take place Saturday, Sept. 4th. Join Whistler experts in the monthly update of our feathered locals and migrants.
Written by: Michael Thompson