Four hungry, scowling Great Blue Heron Chicks
Imagine having to spoon-feed your babies until they were teen-agers and had grown so large you had to reach the spoon up to their mouths because they were taller than you were. Then imagine that you held the spoon in your mouth when you fed them. That is the lot of Mom and Dad Great Blue Heron.
No need for a high chair, the chicks sit on the table, a nest that may be sixty to a hundred feet in the air on top of one of the tallest trees around, often Cypress but sometimes Eucalyptus, high above most predators. Safe for their young.
Mom and Dad share foraging and feeding duties for their young. They take turns doing this around the clock for about 60 days after the chicks hatch. Days filled with endless hunts for food far from the nest and endless squabbles over who gets to grab the food first when they deliver.
The nest becomes a battleground between the older chicks with one or another sometimes deliberately pushed out of the nest. Or one will simply back up too far during the fight and fall on the ground below, from where they have no way to return because their wings are not filled out enough to support them if they try to fly.
Mom and Dad are used to it, though, often producing a second brood, usually four eggs, after the first brood is fledged, as they pair bond for the year. Next year, the excitement of a new mate, serial monogamy in the wild.
Feedings happen after the parent collects a crop full of fish or small rodents and flies back, sometimes from ten miles away, to deliver the next meal to their little ones, which precipitates another round of frantic fighting and fulfillment.
The parent lands and stands on rim of the nest holding their heads up high, waiting to deliver breakfast to the chicks in small boluses with pauses between deliveries of up to a minute. (A minute can be a very long time when your chick is stabbing you in the face between angry croaks.) gbhe2
Normally the parent opens its bill and engages the chicks opened bill by turning its head sideways and then regurgitating. Frequently the larger juveniles will try to grab and pull their parent’s bill into the nest in their frantic hunger.
I must confess that watching the Great Blue Heron feeding process is a mixture of boredom while waiting for something to happen and excitement when it does. The majestic flight and awkward appearing landing postures Mom and Pop assume with such delicate grace are a marvel, one I look forward to every year.
Your comments & questions much appreciated