Wildlife photos: Visit to a Great Blue Heron Rookery

June 14, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today’s readers’ wildlife feature will be presented by our own Greg Mayer, who visited a heron rookery.  All the following text is Greg’s.

by Greg Mayer

Last weekend, my friend Andy Buchanan had reported to me seeing large birds in trees at the Mt. Pleasant, Racine County, WI, village compost site. He thought they resembled the storks he knew from Florida, but which don’t occur in Wisconsin, so we went this past week to take a look and see what they were. We found an active Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) rookery in big, dead trees, in a flooded wetland (about 6 acres of open water in a Google Earth image from this past April) to the NE of the compost site.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) rookery, village compost site, Mt. Pleasant, WI, 9 June 2021. Note the nests, and also the bird standing on the horizontal branch. Seven of the active nests are in the center and right side of this photo.

Careful, repeated, counts gave 10 active nests; each nest was a set of sticks a few feet wide and deep. There were 2-3 inactive nests/piles of sticks, the latter smaller; adults would alight on these unused piles, so it was necessary to see young in the nest to be sure a nest was active.

A ground-level view of the wetland in which the rookery is located.

The nests were high in the dead trees, and could be fairly close to one another in the same tree. Adults are about 4 feet tall, to give you some idea of the spacing. There are 3 active nests in this photo (plus the inactive smaller pile of sticks to the left). How many herons can you find? How many are adult/how many young?

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) rookery, village compost site, Mt. Pleasant, WI, 9 June 2021.

Nests held up to 3 young, which were fairly large and well-feathered, but unable to fly. The total number of herons was probably 20 adults and 20-30 young. The adult in this nest, with nape and chest plumes, is flanked by one standing young– notice how big it is– and two sitting behind.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) rookery, village compost site, Mt. Pleasant, WI, 9 June 2021.

Nests might have 0-2 adults in attendance at any instant. Here, both adults attend to their three young. In addition to having nape and chest plumes, adults can also be distinguished by their white crowns; in the young, the entire top of the head is dark.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) rookery, village compost site, Mt. Pleasant, WI, 9 June 2021.

When an adult arrived at a nest, the young ones would make a persistent duck-like clucking, evidently begging for food. In the following picture, the adult has just landed, and is being eagerly greeted by 3 young.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) rookery, village compost site, Mt. Pleasant, WI, 9 June 2021. An adult greeted by 3 young.

Adults were flying in and out, and might land on a nest, a pile of sticks, or a branch or stump of a tree; and, they might move within the stand (i.e. not just into the stand or out of the stand). In flying they of course flap up . . .

Flying into the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) rookery, village compost site, Mt. Pleasant, WI, 9 June 2021.

. . . and then flap down (these two images were taken .2 seconds apart):

Flying into the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) rookery, village compost site, Mt. Pleasant, WI, 9 June 2021.

One felled and another nearly-felled tree trunk (part of the same tree, it appeared) showed that Beavers (Castor canadensis) had created the wetland that drowned these trees. I was surprised to see in a Google Earth image that the trees were a flourishing green in July 2011, and at least mostly green in June 2015, so that the flooding and tree deaths must have occurred in the 2010’s, after 2011 or even 2015; there must be, or have been until quite recently, beavers present.

Beaver (Castor canadensis) chewed tree trunks at the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) rookery, village compost site, Mt. Pleasant, WI, 9 June 2021.

There was a Great Egret (Ardea alba) in the wetland, walking about in the water; look carefully and you’ll see it.

Great Egret (Ardea alba), village compost site, Mt. Pleasant, WI, 9 June 2021.

There were also three Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis) at the edge of the farm field next to the wetland; they moved back and forth between the open field and the brush at its N edge (which separated it from the wetland). All were warm-reddish-brownish, and one was very rusty– they’re usually grayer. They were probably parents and a young one, but we could not be sure which was which, since all had red foreheads (which they lack when first hatched).

Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis) in a farm field adjacent to the village compost site, Mt. Pleasant, WI, 9 June 2021.

Andy used a pair of German officer’s binoculars from WW II. They had belonged to his father, who served in the Royal Navy during the war, and probably got them as a souvenir. The binoculars were very well made, with leather cladding on the barrels, and still tight with good optics. (The outer surface of the lenses can always be cleaned; it’s when moisture or dirt gets inside that binoculars go bad.)

Andy Buchanan observing the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) rookery at the village compost site, Mt. Pleasant, WI, on 9 June 2021.

(All the pictures can be clicked on to enlarge.)

12 thoughts on “Wildlife photos: Visit to a Great Blue Heron Rookery

    1. There was not a cacophony– too few nests for that, I think. The young were loud and persistent when an adult returned to the nest, but this did not occur frequently enough to make the sound continuous. (I think the adults do their hunting/fishing mostly elsewhere, and then come back to the rookery. We passed an adult standing in a pond, apparently hunting, on the way to the rookery.)

      GCM

      1. Thanks for the feedback. Early on in the spring, my daughter and I went for a forest stroll near our house, and there was huge din at a swampy, bushy area where the starlings were nesting and resting. It was quite something to hear them. We had to move on and listen carefully to locate and isolate the rap-rap-rapping of the North American Flicker we had detected. Luckily, we spotted another birder who had spotted the bird.

  1. Love great blue heron rookeries! I encountered one about ten years ago here in south central PA. Pennsylvania maintains a database of endangered species and sensitive areas that designers must consult to ensure that their proposed land development is not going to conflict with one of these areas. One of my developments got a “hit” (i.e., a potential conflict) and a representative from the state came out to examine the area. It turned out that the proposed development was about 200-300 yards from one of the largest great blue heron rookeries in the state. There were a minimum of 25-30 nests at that time. Because of the time of year, there didn’t appear to be any herons in residence at the time, but it was still a thrill for me to see the rookery and imagine those huge birds landing in the trees!

  2. Thank you for these! Cool to find a rookery like that. I remember from my time in Seattle that there was a heron (and egret?) rookery right next to I-405 across from South Center.

  3. Rather than rookery, the term heronry is usually used in the UK.

    A young heron is a heronshaw, or harnser in Norfolk. Hamlet can “tell a hawk from a handsaw” / that may have be “tell a hawk from a harnser” originally.

    Great how beavers create habitat! 😎

  4. That is really something. Lots of herons in Iowa and Kansas but I never saw a rookery like this.

  5. There is a Provincial park not far from me – Frontenac Provincial Park – which has on of the bigger rookeries around. I just looked it up and this year it has about 40 nests. I was there several years ago and it was quite the sight!!

  6. I live in Cowichan Bay Village on Vancouver Island. We have a heronry (!), and we have just opened a Heron Cam. http://www.cowichanestuary.ca/heron-camera-2020/

    Read the instruction on the page, and be patient. There is some latency. Enjoy!

    I could also post heronry audio if there was any interest.

    I have some iPhone videos (the best camera is the camera you have with you) of river otters and swans which some may find interesting.

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