Bird of the Week: Great Blue Heron

Photo by Albert Kerelis

Photo by Albert Kerelis

Species: Great Blue Heron, or Ardea herodias

Family: Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)

Star sign: Capricorn

Rating: 15/10

Ideal Date: a night at the opera—in box seats, of course.

The Great Blue Heron is the undisputed king of the American wetland. Ducks may be more numerous, kingfishers more aptly named, and geese much louder than is strictly necessary — but none of them have the poise, grace, and majesty of the Heron. Standing at four feet tall, and with a six-foot wingspan, the Great Blue Heron is the largest Heron in North America as well as its most stunning. This beautiful bird’s powder-blue coat and circumspect movements allow it to blend into the scenery, but once you notice it, it is impossible not to admire its appealing colors, confident poise, and impressive stature. Even though you can find one of them along the shore of practically every single body of water in the country, their striking, slender sophistication never gets old, drawing the eye like a moth to a flame even the fifth, tenth, or hundredth time you see it. What an icon.

If the Great Blue Heron’s kingdom is the American wilderness, then the seat of its throne is in Portland, Oregon. In 1986, this fetching friend was designated as the official bird of the city. Ever since then, in early June, the Portland City Council has made an annual proclamation in support of the Heron, followed by a week of lectures and other Heron-themed events called Great Blue Heron week which is organized by local conservation groups. In this proclamation, year after year, the city pledges to protect and improve the habitats of Great Blue Herons and other wildlife living in the city. Today, such pledges may seem pointless, but back in the eighties, the very idea that nature and urban life should coexist was novel, and the elevation of the Heron caused a shift in how Portland’s government viewed urban wildlife. As urban naturalist Mike Houck, who first proposed making the Heron Portland’s official bird, so aptly put it, “The heron is an emissary to the natural world.”

The Great Blue Heron favors the shallow shores of oceans, marshes, and ponds across the US— including at Reed! There is one Great Blue Heron in the Canyon, and the elegant fellow can be found without fail to the east of the Blue Bridge, where he stands sentinel in the shallow Canyon waters, hunts for food, preens, and soars lazily through the air. He can be easily identified by size and color alone— he is the only bird you’ll find in this area that looks like a pale, blue-grey goose on stilts — but other field markers include his bendy tan-colored neck, his narrow yellow beak, and the black feather crown on his head. Consider paying him a visit sometime, and if you do, make sure to pay him the respect that he deserves. He is, after all, our unchallenged and eminent Canyon King.

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