Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Herons
Nature Bulletin No. l99-A   September 25, 1965
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

HERONS
The herons and the egrets are wading birds with long slender legs, long necks and long dagger-like bills. They frequent marshes and the shores of creeks, rivers, lakes and the salt-water lagoons along our coasts. You may see one stalking very slowly along in shallow water, stepping high without causing even a ripple; or standing statue-like until, suddenly, its bill and neck dart forward and down to spear a fish which is quickly swallowed. They also feed on minnows, frogs, crayfish, snakes, small mammals such as mice, and many insects.

A heron, when disturbed, flaps awkwardly away but soon settles into smooth flight with slow deep down-bent wing strokes, its head tucked back against the shoulders and its long legs trailing behind. It may alight in a distant tree, with much wing-flapping, and perch there.

During the breeding season, all the egrets and most of the herons have elongated plumes growing from the head, neck, back or breast. In some species, a crest is always present. The sexes are usually alike, or nearly so, in plumage; but the young are generally different from the adults for the first year or two. The Little Blue Heron, which has been appearing in this region more and more, in midsummer, is almost snowy-white when immature and is frequently mistaken for an egret.

Herons frequently congregate in rookeries where, in the trees, they build nests which are merely rude platforms of sticks. They feed their young, when small, by thrusting the bill down the youngster's throat and disgorging half-digested food. Later, the fledgling seizes the parent's bill and, amidst awkward convulsive struggles, undigested food is somehow transferred to its gullet.

Except the Great White Heron of Florida, the Great Blue Heron is the largest of the tribe, standing about 4 feet tall. Its back is slaty blue and a long black crest hangs from the back of its whitish head. It is frequently called "the blue crane", but a crane has a shorter bill, chunkier body and flies with the head and neck fully extended. Great blue herons nest, in the Chicago region, near the top of tall trees in isolated places, and may migrate in autumn as far south as northern South America.

The Black-crowned Night Heron, many of which nest here, is more active at evening and night. Of medium size, it is more chunky and short-legged than most herons; and is more widely distributed, more numerous and more social. It is the only heron that is black-backed, with a black crown and reddish-orange eyes. When immature they resemble the American bittern but their breasts are spotted, rather than streaked, and not so reddish-brown. It has several nicknames arising from its nasal explosive call "Quawk" -- given as it flies. The Yellow- crowned Night Heron, which does not range as far north, is similar but has darker plumage below, a streaked back, and a black head with a white cheek patch and white crown.

The very common Green Heron, or "shitepoke", or "Fly-up-the-creek", is a small dark heron with rather short greenish-yellow legs which become reddish-orange on the male during the breeding season. Its metallic green back and wings appear bluish at a distance. The neck is a rich chestnut, the sides maroon, and it elevates a shaggy crest when alarmed. They nest here in lower denser trees than most herons and usually creep up on their prey from vantage points such as logs, rocks, or overhanging limbs along the shore.

Said one little heron to the other little heron: "Papa's got a frog in his throat. "


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