Great Blue Heron

Ardea herodias
Range Map

Very similar to the Old World’s Grey Heron, the Great Blue Heron stands as tall as 54 inches and is the largest North American heron. These birds are prototypical ambush hunters; standing silently, waiting for prey to come within striking range, then reaching out at lighting speed to capture its prey. Contrast this style to an active hunter such as the Snowy Egret who uses quick movements to frighten prey into view, then chase down and capture its prey. I compare my preferred method of sit-and-wait photography to these birds, and I tell people, “I’m more Great Blue Heron than the Snowy Egret.”

These tall waders range over most of the USA year-round. Some birds are only summer visitors in the high plains of the upper Mississippi Valley into Canada and north of the Great Lakes. In Texas I encountered these magnificent birds along the Gulf Coast, but during my travels through the western states I’ve met them in California, Wyoming and Arizona.

Early in the 20th century, science called out 10 subspecies of Great Blue Heron. By the late 1970s they revised the number to seven, and later four subspecies. Comprehensive studies conducted in 2004 supported the four subspecies model, but ignored a fifth subspecies (A. h. cogna). Below is the taxonomy that science recognises today:

  • A. h. fannini lives in southeastern Alaska to coastal Washington.
  • A. h. herodias lives in southern Canada, and south through central and eastern USA, to eastern Mexico as far as Tabasco, and winters in the West Indies, Central America and northwestern South America.
  • A. h. wardi lives in southwestern Canada and western USA south as far as northwestern Mexico. Northern populations winter as far south as Central America.
  • A. h. occidentalis lives in south Florida and Yucatán Peninsula through West Indies to islands off northern Venezuela. Scientists place the Great White Heron in this subspecies.
  • A. h. cognata lives on the Galapagos Islands.

I’ve met Great Blue Herons in most of the western USA states I’ve visited, but I think those I met on the Texas Gulf Coast were the most entertaining of all.

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