Meet the Model , Grey Heron – Ardea Cinerea
Words and pictures by Graham Stewart
Now I know what you are all thinking, the big dummy has spelt Garry wrong. But have I? My friends Larry, Harry, Barry and Mary all think I am correct!
I always love seeing this bird for two reasons, firstly when it flies it reminds me a bit of a Pterodactyl and secondly because it is such a patient bird (a trait that escapes me unless I have a camera in hand) it can literally stand motionless for what seems like an eternity when it is hunting and then lightening fast it strikes its unsuspecting quarry.
The diet of a Grey Heron is quite varied. Its main source of food is fish but it is also known to take small birds such as ducklings, small mammals (voles and mice) amphibians and even snakes. The Grey Heron is widespread throughout the UK, anywhere there is a good source of water to fish and yes, that does include your garden pond! They can also be found in most of Europe, Asia, as far as Japan and in some parts of Northern Africa. As a rule only a very small percentage of British Herons (3-4%) actually migrate.
The Grey Heron is a highly sociable bird and will tend to nest with other groups of Heron in Heronries. The largest Heronry is currently in Northward Hill, Kent where there are some 150 pairs. Nests are mostly in trees some 25m or more above ground although nests have also been found in reed beds and on cliffs. The nest itself is an ungainly mass of twigs. Inside the nest there is an inner cup made of twigs and grass. When building the nest the male brings the female the materials and she stays to complete its construction
Courtship starts as early as February but is not generally in full flow until March. In the UK the Grey Heron will lay an average of 4 eggs. Incubation is in the region of 25 days and the chicks will fledge after approximately 7-8 weeks.
Average expected life span is 5 years. Mortality is highest during its first year with 2/3 not reaching 1 year old. The oldest recorded Grey Heron was 23! Main threats are hunting and changes to habitat such as drainage of wetlands and deforestation. They are also at high risk during a prolonged cold winter due to ponds and other water sources becoming frozen and preventing access to food.
Weight 1.5 – 2.1kg