Great Blue Herons Need Alone Time, Too

After all the “togetherness” of the nesting colonies, the stately birds spend the off-season by themselves.

This audio story is brought to you by BirdNote, a partner of the National Audubon Society. BirdNote episodes air daily on public radio stations nationwide.


This is BirdNote!

That prehistoric-sounding call is from a Great Blue Heron. This tall, stately bird is commonly seen standing alone on beaches, in marshes, on docks and pilings, even on tree branches. Watching. Waiting.

Now, from earlier this summer, the raucous sound of a colony of nesting Great Blue Herons.

Herons collect into groups for nesting, constructing their spartan stick nests in adjoining trees. Several nests may be crammed into one tree.  As many as 60 nests in a colony can create quite a frenzy! Nesting in large colonies helps protect the young from predators.

But by this time of year, the adults and gangly young have left the nests to take up solitary lives along beaches, marshes, lake edges, and rivers. After all the “togetherness” of the nesting colonies, the herons spend the off-season by themselves, a pattern that is the reverse of many other species.

During fall and winter, they defend the areas where they feed as adamantly as other birds defend their nesting territories in spring. The herons challenge and scare away intruders, including other Great Blue Herons, by sounding this call.

It may sound strange, but it’s one beautiful bird. Got a photo? Share it with our listeners. Begin at our website, I’m Michael Stein.



Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by C.A. Sutherland. Heron colony recorded by Kessler Productions.

Narrator: Michael Stein

Adapted from a script written by Frances Wood

Producer: John Kessler

Executive Producer: Chris Peterson

© 2014 Tune In to, August 2018