11.15.20: Herons in their nest

The birds were often side by side, with frequent touching and caressing. The male would take the female’s head or neck in its bill occasionally, holding it for a few moments before releasing.

Photographing together time 

for heron pair

Great Blue Herons are typically solitary birds. They spend almost 90 percent of their waking time hunting for food alone in or near the water.

I have hundreds of photos of Great Blue Herons hunting. There are only a few that show another animal in the vicinity, usually a duck or a turtle but never another heron. A heron’s life is an isolated existence.

But that changes around February each year when breeding season begins. Herons usually breed in colonies, called a heronry, that may include as many as 500 nests in trees close to wetlands.

This nesting pair of Great Blue Herons weren’t part of a heronry. Their nest was isolated above a wetlands in Six Mile Cypress Slough in Fort Myers, Fla. The nesting site they selected was close to an observation deck, which allowed me to get a variety of photos on multiple visits to the site.

It was interesting watching the behavior of the nesting pair of herons, which was much different than heron behavior at other times of the year.

The birds were often side by side, with frequent touching and caressing. The male would take the female’s head or neck in its bill occasionally, holding it for a few moments before releasing.

But the most interesting behavior I saw involved nest building, a process that can take up to two weeks to complete.

I was watching when the male heron left the nest and flew to a line of trees along the wetlands. It went from limb to limb, checking various branches with its bill before finding one to its liking and breaking it off to carry back to the nest site.

When the male arrived back at the site he would show the stick to the female, who would take the opposite end in her bill. They would then jointly place the stick in position. The male would hang around for a while before leaving to find another stick for the nest. When he returned, they again jointly placed the new stick in position.

I was surprised that the herons remained at that nesting site. There was a steady progression of visitors — along with a number of photographers — walking on the observation deck less than 40 yards from the nest. As is frustratingly typical in nature areas, some of the visitors were involved in loud conversations that scared off wildlife. But the herons ignored all the distractions.

A pair of Great Blue Herons share a nest in Six Mile Cypress Slough, Fort Myers, Fla.

A pair of Great Blue Herons share a nest in Six Mile Cypress Slough, Fort Myers, Fla.

Tech specs

  • Date/time: Feb. 16, 2019, 10:01 a.m.
  • Location: 26°34'32.874" N 81°49'21.804" W (Show in Google Maps)
  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II 
  • Canon EF 600mm f/4L
  • Aperture: f/4
  • Shutter: 1/1000th second
  • ISO: 200