Find out more about our Species at Risk

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Pacific Great Blue Heron
Status: Special Concern
Key Information:

The species of Great Blue Heron found around Cortes is the Pacific Great Blue Heron subspecies (Ardea herodias fannini). It is one subspecies out of five that are found in North America. The Great Blue Heron has an average lifespan of about 15 years. The oldest ever recorded was between 23 and 25 years old! Their mating season takes place in the early spring. During this time you may be able to see a male and female Blue Heron partaking in a complex courting dance that involves actions such as extensive preening, exchanging twigs, snapping their beaks together and more! (Check out a video in the Useful Links sections below).

Males build their nests in order to present them to the females. A mated pair will then lay and take care of 2 to 6 eggs. Throughout Canada, it is estimated that there are under 5000 nesting adult herons. Their numbers are declining due to human disturbance, shoreline development, habitat loss and fragmentation as well as increasing predation from Bald Eagles. Great Blue Herons are now determined to be of special concern.

Identification – what to look for:

  • Grey blue plumage
  • Black strip covering eyes, stretching to the back of their head
  • Pale yellow to dark orange beak
  • Long legs
  • Smaller and darker in colour than other subspecies found in North America

Where are they found?

  • Our west coast subspecies is found all the way from Alaska down to the Washington coast.
  • They spend a great deal of time hunting and wading in shallow waters, both fresh and saltwater. Look for them along the ocean shoreline, riverbeds as well as lakes and ponds.
  • They will also hunt and forage in open fields such as farm pastures and crop fields.
  • They prefer to nest in tall trees in isolated areas. Keep an eye out for large, oval-shaped, sticky nests high in the trees.
  • On Cortes Island, there have been reported sightings of Blue Herons foraging along the shoreline in places such as Manson’s Lagoon and Smelt Bay Provincial Park.

Cool Facts!

  • Although they are quite a large bird, they are extremely light – only 5 to 6 lb!
  • They prefer to nest in large nesting colonies called rookeries can have up to 200 nests or more!
  • They enjoy their peace and quiet! They’re easily disturbed by humans and will tend to leave quickly if they hear you approaching… however, they like to make a lot of noise themselves, often making many squawking sounds.
  • Their feathers become brighter and longer during mating season
  • Parents share the duties of incubating the eggs
  • Trees with a heron’s nest are protected year-round!

Useful links:

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Species Spotlight on the Great Blue Heron
COSEWIC Status Report (PDF): Great Blue Heron
Nature Canada: Species Spotlight on the Great Blue Heron
Environmental Guidelines for Urban and Rural Land Development in British Columbia (PDF)
Ministry of Environment: BC Species and Ecosystem Explorer 
Video: Great Blue Heron sounds
Video: Great Blue Heron in flight
Video: Blue Heron Courtship

Join the FOCI family

Become a Friends of Cortes Island member and support the work that we’re doing in the community to help look after our beautiful island.

Friends of Cortes Island Society (FOCI) is a charitable organization that has been active for over 25 years. Our organization exists to monitor and preserve the health of local ecosystems, and to provide educational programs that foster a greater understanding of the natural environment. Through all of our projects, we work to promote environmental integrity through community responsibility.