Is the Great Blue Heron Dangerous?

by Anne Cagle

The great blue heron is a magnificent and shy bird that frequents wetlands. These birds should not be handled because they can attack if provoked. However, humans are more of a threat to these birds than the creatures are to humans.

Description

The great blue heron (Ardea herodias) has a height of 3.2 to 4.5 feet (1 to 1.4 meters) with a large wingspan of 5.5 to 6.6 feet (1.7 to 2 meters). They can fly at about 20 to 30 miles (32 to 48 kilometers) an hour. Adult birds have bluish-gray feathers on its back, wing and belly. Black plumes extend from the eyes to beyond the back of the head. A white crown and face characterizes this bird. The creature has a brown neck with a black-bordered white stripe down the front center. The great blue heron has notable shaggy plumage with alternate color on its neck and back. The immature herons have a black cap, smooth plumage with brownish-gray on its back and upper wings. These juveniles do not have the black plume that extends from the eye. A morph (variant) of the great blue heron is white and lives only in south Florida.

Habitat

Great blue herons inhabit wetlands and coastlines. During the spring and summer, they breed throughout North and Central America, many parts of Canada, the Caribbean, and the Galapagos. Some migrate to Central and South America but do not breed in these locations.

Food

Great blue herons eat small mammals such as mice, fish and other birds.

Predators

The primary threat to the great blue heron is humans. People have destroyed wetlands and coastlines through encroaching construction. Careless building, without thought for the natural environment displaces the herons from their homes. Humans also use chemicals, mostly pesticides and herbicides, that leach into the ground and waterways sustaining heron populations. Great blue herons are an indicator species because these birds feed on a variety of animals in their habitat. They absorb and concentrate poisons from the environment into their bodies and these toxins are passed onto the herons when the birds feed. Non-human predators are raccoons, bald eagles and other birds of prey.

Behavior and Potential Threat

Great blue herons are, like many wild creatures, shy of humans. They exhibit aggressive behavior only when cornered, when their young are threatened, and when they are handled.

About the Author

Anne Cagle has been writing ever since she was a toddler who could scribble with crayons. Her first published article, at age 12, was in a teachers' newsletter. She was published in "Optical Prism" magazine and has worked as a reviewer for the Webby Awards. She holds a degree in English from the University of Oregon.