Spring Happenings at the Rookery


Understated. New nest in progress.

Last year we visited the local rookery in May, when the leaves were out, the nests were plentiful, the toads were singing, and mushrooms were shiny with moisture. I believe we counted about 35 nests with approximately 60 birds. This year, I decided to go check out the herons a bit earlier, hoping to observe the nest building process. In northern Illinois, great blue herons lay their eggs in late March to April, so the nest building was in progress now. Just about 15 nests were up in the trees so far. Babies hatch in May, and by August they leave the nests to feed with the grownups.

These birds are 40 feet high up in the dead trees, our first Spring morning was quite grey, and I tried not to disturb their peace, so pardon the photos for the lack of detail. These majestic birds stand 4 feet tall and have a 6 foot wing span. They captivate with their beauty, ability to switch shapes between a curled up ball and a graceful long flyer, and their concentrated demeanor, sitting there patiently like frozen Buddhas on their stick pillows. Here, a male blue heron is disassembling an older nest and flying the twigs over to his female companion. The female then weaves the sticks into a new nest, which can range from 20 inches to a few feet wide.



The couple on an old nest that is being taken apart

I noticed that one of the herons was not fitting into his sleepy crowd. He curiously kept looking around at the noisy geese down below in the bog, checking out the ducks quacking a distance away. After a while, he flew closer to the ladies (I assume?)Β  who were perched on brand new nests. One of them protested with a puff of feathers and a loud trumpeted bark. The curious gentleman then began his grooming procedure fluffing the chest feathers, periodically checking in with the upset lady: “How is it looking now, honey?” The feathers on the chest of the great blue heron are highly specialized and will continually grow and fray, kind of like a powdery down. Herons use their chest feathers to remove slime and oils from their other feathers as they preen. I was grateful for this entertaining bit, for my hands began freezing holding the camera. A good twenty minutes of grooming did not impress the grumpy lady, so he spotted another heron flying off, and with some trumpeting calls, he took off right behind.


Trying to impress




About BeeHappee

Where have all the bees gone? Where have all the flowers gone? https://beehappeenow.wordpress.com
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25 Responses to Spring Happenings at the Rookery

  1. DM says:

    One of the things I like about those nests (if i were a baby heron) was I would have 40 feet before I hit the ground/ trying to figure out how to fly.

    • BeeHappee says:

      Hi Doug, that is a good point. πŸ™‚ These birds are so light (adults 4-5 lbs, so youngsters maybe 2-3) and such great wingspan, that they probably can just float on the air current. Or, like wood ducks, bounce right off the ground once they hit it. Another thing, the trees are in the middle of the water, so it is always soft underneath. πŸ™‚
      Sometimes, I do count on some free-fall time when I jump and need to learn how to fly – figuratively speaking.

  2. InfiniteZip says:

    We have a rookery here but I haven’t been down to see it yet. On the great list of things to get to. Our home is in an area that is a bird sanctuary according to the sign….saw a hawk this morning and a slew of cardinals and Jay’s….and five turkey vultures cleaning a dead raccoon. Busy area I guess πŸ™‚

    • BeeHappee says:

      Where are you situated now, Kim? We are in the busy suburbs, although not much longer, but it surely seems like a bird sanctuary here. Couple days ago, we had a peregrine falcon swoop down from the roof and into a tree, then he just sat there on a branch just feet away from us, looking at us, and eventually flew down to the ground to search for something. We have an abundance of voles, and they attracted all types of prey birds I guess. Tons of owls and hawks also passing through here from the woods across the street. They make me happy. πŸ™‚

      • InfiniteZip says:

        I used to be in Holland New York but now reside in paradise, aka Venice Florida. Escaped the cold to migrate down here permanently and bird watch….and dog watch (one kept escaping through the fence), etc…😊 and in the evening I wine watch at sunset😊 a beautiful life and the birds around here have the sweetest morning songs. Gotta get my bird book out and figure what is what. Peregrines are my all time favorite. There were a bunch in the city of Buffalo, they had a camera on the nest and every year the news would show the fuzzy little ones….so cute.

  3. Walking My Path: Mindful Wanderings in Nature says:

    Beautiful photos, Kristina! We used to have herons here Great Blues and Black Crowned. Because of drought, our creek dries up some years, so the fish don’t get as big anymore. I miss them. I really love Great Blue Herons. Thank you for this wonderful journey into their lives!

    • BeeHappee says:

      Thank you, Mary. I love seeing them back. Their rookeries are difficult to find, they are somewhat reclusive, and just a secret path leads you there. We had huge flocks of sandhill cranes passing over us just couple weeks back. But I am glad herons stick around here. Many eagles this year too. I had not noticed the Black Crowned, maybe because I just did not pay attention. It is always fun to watch them hunting for prey.

      • Walking My Path: Mindful Wanderings in Nature says:

        Yes! They are soooo patient! I love the image of the secret path taking you to the rookery. I saw some cranes in Feb., not here, further south, where they winter. They were just leaving. I’m putting 2 shots of them in my next post. I love how they sound, and fly so gracefully.

  4. nicoleaugust says:

    They always make me think of a Dr. Seuss illustration :).

    • BeeHappee says:

      Perhaps they truly really are
      When I squint at them from afar
      They clean and comb their fuzzy fluff
      And proudly strut their fraying stuff
      They are not owl, not duck, not goose
      They live up high on dead old spruce
      They are indeed from Dr. Seuss.. πŸ™‚

  5. shoreacres says:

    I’ve never been to a rookery, and that’s something I’m hoping to remedy this spring. One thing I didn’t know about the herons is that they’ll dismantle one nest to build another. It makes sense. Why fly all over the country looking for sticks, when there are some close at hand? I wonder if they use all the old sticks, or only the ones that remain clean and strong. What’s clear is that they know what they’re doing.

    Your photos are great. Better a photo on a gray day than no photo at all! I often find myself keeping less than perfect photos (of a flower, for example) just to have a record of what it looks like. There’s value in that, too.

    • BeeHappee says:

      Hi Linda, yes, I am not sure if they do it all the time, but I did watch them disassembling that nest for sure. Also, many of the nest that were there last year, are now missing. Not sure where they went. Some of the dead trees seem to collapse in storms too. We could learn better recycling from herons. πŸ™‚
      Going back to your post on Pied Billed Grebe, you know I had never noticed one around here, but in fact, we have some in our woods just across the street! We were on a night hike and s’mores fire last weekend, and then stopped at the nature center where people write down what they had seen in the woods. A birder must have walked by, because he/she recorded all types of interesting things, including the Pied Billed Grebe! So I was all excited about that. πŸ™‚
      Yup, let’s get out take more photos!!

  6. Hariod Brawn says:

    This is excellent, Kristina, the humour in that last picture – she doesn’t look terribly impressed does she? XD

    • BeeHappee says:

      Thank you very much, Hariod. Neither one of the two ladies were impressed. The one on the far right was most upset. They are able to hunt at night, so their eye sight must be excellent. The one that kept grooming himself, was really quite a character, checking out each branch with the stretched out neck, and inching a bit closer. πŸ™‚
      Enjoy the spring!

  7. Laurie Graves says:

    Wonderful post, informative and humorous.

  8. Hemangini says:

    love the herons. I saw them 2 years ago didn’t see their nesting so nicely done and them keeping watch. Priceless parenting. haha

  9. Bill says:

    There is a majestic heron who frequents our pond. He/she, I think, shuttles occasionally between it and our neighbors pond. But I’ve never seen more than one and I’ve never seen a nest. I would be delighted to see a nesting pair high in a tree!

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