What beautiful weather we are enjoying here in the Northwest! I am a little confused about the time of year it is right now–this is typically one of the coldest parts of the winter–and I think maybe the birds are confused as well. Every time I’m out walking or hiking I’m hearing birds making mating calls. This last Sunday, again in preparation for the next painting in The Bird-Watcher series, (subject matter–Great Blue Herons) we headed to ‘the bottoms’ in Woodland, WA, to see if the Great Blue Herons were nesting. I was not disappointed!
Becoming a bird-watcher has enlightened me about so many things. For one, I’ve discovered that you cannot have preconceived ideas about how birds nest by just looking at them. Great Blue Herons, loners as adults, love to congregate together in nesting sites called a heronry or rookeries. Not only that, the awkward looking, gangly legged bird that one would assume would only be suited to ground nesting, chooses to build in the tallest treetops they can find. (Before becoming a bird-watcher, when I’d drive by a rookery I thought it was just a big squirrel or crow commune, because of all the nests in one grove of trees. Silly me, there is no such thing as squirrel or crow communes.) The male bird is the first to take possession of the nest and lure in a mate with fancy dancing, squawking and head bobbing. Although effective in the bird world, I’m glad fancy dancing and head bobbing is not a requirement in the human ‘mating’ ritual. I’ve witnessed too may wedding receptions gone awry when the dancing began. Squawking comes later in the marriage–smile–that’s why heron’s decide to find a new mate each year, no chance of learning what buttons to push to make the mate unhappy.
Once a female has succumbed to the fancy dancing, mating ensues and three to six relatively small–between 2-3 inches long–blue eggs are laid two days apart. They are incubated approximately 27 days. The male takes on about 10 hours of incubation responsibility during the day, while the female takes the other 14 hours and the night shift. Both parents share feeding responsibilities, eating up to four times as much food as when they were incubating, regurgitating it for the babies when they get back to the nest. The babies have reached about two-thirds of their adult size by the time they are 45 days old and ready to take their first flight at 55-80 days old, depending on where they live. They continue to come back to the nest to be fed by parents for another three weeks while they hone their own hunting skills, then disperse out to feeding grounds and to live a solitary life until the instinct to congregate in the treetops hits and the cycle starts all over again.
For those of you who live in the Vancouver, WA area, you can see a rookery on the West side of the Glenn Jackson Bridge on Government Island. It is full of herons and is what prompted me to go to Woodland for a photo shoot. I’d never noticed it before this year but possibly that’s because I had a car that rode lower to the ground.