The best known heron in North America, the great blue heron is also the largest, growing almost 4 feet long and weighing 5 to 6 pounds. Never far from water, they inhabit marshes, lakes, rivers, bays, beaches, mangroves, and other wetlands across the United States. Despite their name, the herons are usually gray, though a white subspecies can be found in Florida. They have long wings and legs, and a bill that tapers to a point. Adults are marked with a plume behind their heads. Usually foraging while standing in the water, they spot prey by sight, feeding on such diverse fare as fish, insects, crustaceans, amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals. They are generally solitary hunters, though they nest in colonies.
Great blue herons usually migrate from their South and Central American winter range to their northern breeding range in North America between February and early May, returning south between September and October. Nests are usually high in trees near water, though sometimes are built on the ground, ledges, cliffs, or in bushes. Females lay 3 to 7 eggs, which incubate 25 to 29 days. Both parents tend the young, and their care is vital. Survival for fledglings is highly dependent upon the parents’ ability to procure food 2 to 6 weeks after nestlings hatch. If they survive, young herons will usually live around 15 years in the wild. Parents are territorial and will aggressively defend their nests from interlopers.