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Great Blue Herons

Location: Ithaca, NY

Camera Host: Cornell Lab

Find more about Weather in Ithaca, NY

October 31, 2014

Hairy and Red-bellied Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpeckers are contrastingly black and white. The black wings are checkered with white; the head has two white stripes (and, in males, a flash of red toward the back of the head). A large white patch runs down the center of the black back. In contrast the Red-bellied Woodpecker often appears pale overall, even the boldly black-and-white striped back, with flashing red cap and nape. Look for white patches near the wingtips as this bird flies. 

October 31, 2014

Hooded Merganser Naps on Sapsucker Woods Pond

“Hooded” is something of an understatement for this extravagantly crested little duck. Adult males are a sight to behold, with sharp black-and-white patterns set off by chestnut flanks. Females get their own distinctive elegance from their cinnamon crest. Hooded Mergansers are fairly common on small ponds and rivers, where they dive for fish, crayfish, and other food, seizing it in their thin, serrated bills. They nest in tree cavities; the ducklings depart with a bold leap to the forest floor when only one day old. 

October 30, 2014

Diving Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers find their prey underwater by sight. They can actually change the refractive properties of their eyes to improve their underwater vision. In addition, they have an extra eyelid, called a “nictitating membrane,” which is transparent and helps protect the eye during swimming, like a pair of goggles. 

October 31, 2014

Hooded Merganser Naps on Sapsucker Woods Pond

“Hooded” is something of an understatement for this extravagantly crested little duck. Adult males are a sight to behold, with sharp black-and-white patterns set off by chestnut flanks. Females get their own distinctive elegance from their cinnamon crest. Hooded Mergansers are fairly common on small ponds and rivers, where they dive for fish, crayfish, and other food, seizing it in their thin, serrated bills. They nest in tree cavities; the ducklings depart with a bold leap to the forest floor when only one day old. 

October 31, 2014

Hairy and Red-bellied Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpeckers are contrastingly black and white. The black wings are checkered with white; the head has two white stripes (and, in males, a flash of red toward the back of the head). A large white patch runs down the center of the black back. In contrast the Red-bellied Woodpecker often appears pale overall, even the boldly black-and-white striped back, with flashing red cap and nape. Look for white patches near the wingtips as this bird flies. 

October 30, 2014

Diving Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers find their prey underwater by sight. They can actually change the refractive properties of their eyes to improve their underwater vision. In addition, they have an extra eyelid, called a “nictitating membrane,” which is transparent and helps protect the eye during swimming, like a pair of goggles. 

May 04

Courtship Begins!

Better late than never! Captured under the light of the new Infrared Illuminator (not visible to the herons), 'Dad' and a female engaged in courtship, vocalizing/ kronking and beak playing in the nest tree. 

April 29

The Heron Nest Has Fallen

Unfortunately due to high winds this morning, the rather fragile Great Blue Heron nest fell out of the tree. Herons have not yet returned this year to nest in the tree that has been occupied every year previously since 2009. The male heron 'Dad' has been seen regularly on the pond recently, and occasionally in the tree, however we have not seen signs of him having a mate. We have seen a second heron in the area, with occasional interaction, but no signs of courting. There is still time for a new nest to be built, Dad to find a mate and eggs to be laid. We've switched the views so that the pan-tilt-zoom cam is featured above and you can still pop-out the fixed cam. We'll switch them back if and when herons begin building a new nest. 

April 23

Two Herons Seen on Sapsucker Pond!

Could this be 'Dad' and a female? They were spotted this morning on the pond, fishing and sharing short interactions in flight. Could this pair decide to nest here? Only time will tell. There is still time for herons to breed. 

Great Blue Heron

Tree

Nest Placement

Great Blue Herons nest mainly in trees, but will also nest on the ground, on bushes, in mangroves, and on structures such as duck blinds, channel markers, or artificial nest platforms. Males arrive at the colony and settle on nest sites; from there, they court passing females. Colonies can consist of 500 or more individual nests, with multiple nests per tree built 100 or more feet off the ground.

Nest Description

Male Great Blue Herons collect much of the nest material, gathering sticks from the ground and nearby shrubs and trees, and from unguarded and abandoned nests, and presenting them to the female. She weaves a platform and a saucer-shaped nest cup, lining it with pine needles, moss, reeds, dry grass, mangrove leaves, or small twigs. Nest building can take from 3 days up to 2 weeks; the finished nest can range from a simple platform measuring 20 inches across to more elaborate structures used over multiple years, reaching 4 feet across and nearly 3.5 feet deep. Ground-nesting herons use vegetation such as salt grass to form the nest.

Clutch Size

2-6 eggs

Incubation Period

27-29 days

Nestling Period

49-81 days

Egg Description

Pale blue, fading slightly with age.

Condition at Hatching

Bluish eyes open, chick covered in pale gray down, able to vocalize.

Fish

Food

Great Blue Herons eat nearly anything within striking distance, including fish, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, insects, and other birds. They grab smaller prey in their strong mandibles or use their dagger-like bills to impale larger fish, often shaking them to break or relax the sharp spines before gulping them down.

Typical Voice

Great Blue Herons are most vocal on the breeding grounds, where they greet their partner with squawking roh-roh-rohs in a “landing call” when arriving at the nest. A disturbance can trigger a series of clucking go-go-gos, building to a rapid frawnk squawk that can last up to 20 seconds. If directly threatened, birds react with a screaming awk lasting just over 2 seconds. Chicks give a tik-tik-tik call within minutes of hatching.more sounds

See full Species Info at All About Birds

About the Herons

Herons at Sapsucker Woods Though neither bird is banded, you can identify the male by the absence of a hallux (the rear-facing toe) on his right foot. Adult herons can be up to 4.5 feet tall, with a wingspan that ranges up to 6 feet. Despite their large size, they typically only weigh around 5 pounds.

Herons usually lay 2-4 eggs and share incubation duties for 25-30 days. Incubation begins with the first egg, and the young hatch asynchronously (not at the same time) over 2-5 days. After hatching, it’ll take 7-8 weeks before they fly from the nest for the first time.

About the Nest

Herons at Sapsucker WoodsThis Great Blue Heron nest is in a giant white-oak snag in the middle of Sapsucker Woods pond (click for aerial view), right outside the Cornell Lab’s Johnson Center for Birds and Biodiversity in Sapsucker Woods.  In 2009, the arrival of those first twigs marked the start of the first known Great Blue Heron nest in the history of Sapsucker Woods. Early in the spring of 2012 we installed two cameras to bring the hidden world of their nesting habits into full view. The nest itself is nearly four feet across and a foot deep, and wraps almost entirely around the trunk of the tree. The birds have slowly built up the nest over the last few years.

About Sapsucker Woods

Sapsucker Woods Sanctuary was named in 1909 by famed bird artist Louis Agassiz Fuertes upon finding the first Yellow-bellied Sapsucker nest in the Ithaca region. About 3 miles from Cornell’s campus, Sapsucker Woods covers 230 acres of forest dominated by red maples, beech, and hickory, including the 10-acre pond that hosts the herons’ nest site.

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