Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Species Spotlight: Great Blue Heron

The Garden Pond in the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum is home to numerous species of exotic and native waterfowl, but it is also the favorite hunting ground for one of North America's largest birds: the great blue heron. 

This feathered resident stands at over 4 feet tall and sports a handsome array of blue and white feathers. Though their color and size have obviously earned them their name, great blue herons are also known for their bright yellow eyes and long, dark, feathered eye stripe.

To catch their prey, great blue herons stand stalk-still waiting for a fish or frog to approach. As the Cornell Lab of Ornithology writes, "Watch for the lightning-fast thrust of the neck and head as they stab with their strong bills." The catfish in the Asiatic Arboretum Pond are their particular favorites.

Great blue herons are habitat generalists, and they can be found near saltwater or freshwater, along lakes, ponds, rivers, mudflats or salt marshes. Here at Duke Gardens, our heron prefers the Virtue Peace Pond of the Doris Duke Center Gardens, the Garden Pond of the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum, or surveying his kingdom from the top of one of the tallest pines overlooking the Historic Gardens.

Next time you visit Duke Gardens, keep an eye out for our resident heron. Though visitors must be careful not to approach too closely or disturb the heron (it is a wild bird), he is sure to provide some picturesque views and photographs!

Blogger Erika Zambello is a graduate student studying Ecosystem Science and Conservation at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment. 

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