Spoonfeeding Great Blue Heron Chicks

four hungry chicks

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.

lone chick in nest

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.

Heron RookeryA Heron Rook­ery

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.

two chicks waiting for lunchTwo chicks wait­ing for Mom to 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.

Three chicks grabbing for Mom's headImag­ine, three sharp mouths grab­bing for your head!

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.

Heron chicks waiting to be fed

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.

Landing on the edge of the nestThe 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

Heron chicks waiting for lunchNor­mal­ly 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.

Feeding the Heron chickI 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.

Great Blue Heron taking offA Majes­tic Bird

Great Blue Heron LandingGrace­ful­ly, del­i­cate­ly bal­anced

Your com­ments & ques­tions much appre­ci­at­ed

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2 Responses to Spoonfeeding Great Blue Heron Chicks

  1. Stephanie says:

    Hi Richard! We stum­bled across your blog and LOVE the GBH rook­ery image! This would be per­fect for our next muse­um project we are design­ing. It’s the Upper Mis­sis­sip­pi Nation­al Wildlife Refuge Vis­i­tor Cen­ter. We have lots of new inter­pre­tive sig­nage cur­rent­ly under works and one of the sto­ries focus on the majes­tic Great Blue Heron. Please send me your require­ments to use the image in our new muse­um.

  2. Marjorie Siegel says:

    Delight­ful heron nar­ra­tive and gor­geous pic­tures – Thanks!

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