Herons (All About)
The heron is Ireland’s tallest bird. Standing up to 98 cm tall, it waits patiently all day in areas of fresh water, waiting for a fish to pass so that it can pounce on it for a meal. It has a long, yellow bill; long, narrow legs and a grey and white body with black wing tips. In flight, it is unmistakeable as it flies with its head drawn back and its long legs trailing behind.Read moreRead less
Remarkably, for a bird that stands all day by shallow water, it builds its
nest at the top of a tall tree in a colony called a heronry. There are usually
less than fifty nests per colony, made from sticks or reeds by the female and
three to five light blue eggs are laid. After 25 days incubation, the young are
fed by both parents with fish, beetles, frogs and rats. One parent always stays
on guard while the other is away feeding and catching food for the young. They
are not able to swim so they must stand patiently until an unwary fish swims
over their feet. If the fish is small they can swallow it whole, taking care of
course to swallow it head first so that the scales do not get stuck in its
throat. If the fish is too large for this, they will kill it with repeated
stabs of the beak and then bring it to the bank to pick off the flesh.
They are one of very few creatures to eat frogs, as most creatures find them distasteful. Even the heron doesn’t like the ovaries of the female frog and will cough these up on the bank where they swell most amazingly in the rain and present a mystery to nature watchers who find them and are not in the know. Herons were very familiar in Ireland long ago as was a larger wading bird — the Crane — which is now extinct here because of habitat destruction. So our grey heron is sometimes called the crane as it resembles this earlier bird. The wealth of names in Irish that exist for it show how well known it was (place names such as Corlough mean the lake of the heron). It was thought that a heron flying south is a sign of good weather.
Things to do
1. Make out a food chain — or indeed a meal menu for a heron. As there are up to 10,000 breeding pairs in Ireland an expedition to a river/lake/wetland/town park with pond should bring a sighting.
2. Use the internet to look up the delightful poem — “The herons on Bo Island” — which could then be learned as part of a poetry anthology.