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Be a Better Birder Tutorial 1

Great Blue Herons

Location: Ithaca, NY

Camera Host: Cornell Lab

Find more about Weather in Ithaca, NY

August 26, 2014

Spotted Sandpiper Spotted

The Spotted Sandpiper is primarily terrestrial, often walking along shorelines. It sometimes perches in trees or on poles, especially while on lookout with chicks. We have seen the Sandpiper walking around in the large lily pads on Sapsucker Pond. The birds frequently teeter, an up-and-down bobbing of entire body in the manner of a teeter-totter or seesaw, while walking or standing still. Teetering increases in frequency when the bird is nervous or agitated and ceases with alarm, courtship, and aggression. The function of teetering has not been determined. The Spotted Sandpiper occasionally swims while feeding on the surface. They can also dive shallowly and swim underwater, powered by wings and feet, to escape predators or to avoid harassment from other birds, especially Common Grackle and Red-winged Blackbird. More...

August 25, 2014

Conversion to New Livestream

You may have noticed that we have just made the move from 'original' Livestream to 'New' Livestream. To view the 'New' Livestream site you can hover over the cam video above and click the Livestream logo in the bottom right hand corner. A bonus from moving to 'New' Livestream is that we can now scan back in time within each 8 hour recording. So if you have missed anything or want to see something again just hover over the cam video and drag the curser across the time bar to the point in time you would like to view. More...

August 22, 2014

No Audio

The audio equipment requires maintenance- we lost sound during a recent storm. For pond sounds click 'More...' for the Cornell Lab FeederWatch cam (which is located close to the Cornell Herons cam). More...

August 06, 2014

Green Heron Hunts on Lily Pads

A Green Heron was seen running along and hunting from the lily pads early in the morning. Upon catching its prey the bird flies to a nearby island where an adult Great Blue Heron is seen fishing. Two more Green Herons fly in to shot. Green Herons have a heavy bill for its size, so it can capture large prey such as frogs, but not large fish that struggle. Prey is captured with a darting stroke of head and neck, often with a body lunge. When striking from horizontal, the bird darts its head and neck forward and down. Prey generally grasped with the bill, but may be speared. The Green Heron (with Great Blue Heron [Ardea herodias]) has the fewest recorded feeding behaviors of North American day herons. Of the 36 heron feeding behaviors, Green Herons (including B. striatus) are known to use 15: Standing, Baiting, Standing Flycatching, Head Swaying, Neck Swaying, Walking Slowly, Walking Quickly, Scanning, Feetfirst Diving, Foot Stirring, Foot Raking, Plunging, Diving, Jumping, and Swimming Feeding. Thanks to TN Tuxedo for the video.  

August 03, 2014

Green Heron Close-up

Green Herons eat mainly small fish such as minnows, sunfish, catfish, pickerel, carp, perch, gobies, shad, silverside, eels, and goldfish. They also feed on insects, spiders, crustaceans, snails, amphibians, reptiles, and rodents. They hunt by standing still at the water’s edge, in vegetation, or by walking slowly in shallow water. When a fish approaches, the heron lunges and darts its head, grasping (or sometimes spearing) the fish with its heavy bill. Occasionally Green Herons hunt in deeper water by plunging on prey from above. They hunt at all times of the day and night in the shallows of swamps, creeks, marshes, ditches, ponds, and mangroves. They usually forage among thick vegetation in water that is less than 4 inches deep, avoiding the deeper and more open areas frequented by longer-legged herons.  

August 02, 2014

White-tailed Deer Fawn Meets 'Dad'

Our resident male heron 'Dad' unexpectedly encounters a young White-tailed Deer as he stands on the shoreline of a small island on Sapsucker Pond. The fawn is curious and moves in close to check out the rather large heron. Dad is not too keen however and flies to move away from the inquisitive youngster. Thanks to Violet Forrest for the video. 

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


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.



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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