Slideshow: Great Blue Herons Nest Outside Our Window

July 10, 2009

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UPDATE 2: All four young fledged at just before 9 a.m. on Thursday, July 30. Lab science editor Laura Erickson caught a few last pictures of the birds testing their wings on July 29, which you can see in this photoset. Here are some of Laura’s remarks on the progress of the chicks:

By my reckoning, the oldest is 55 days old today–I was first seeing the adults standing up and looking down at the eggs rather than simply incubating them on June 5. (Anyone else record something earlier?)  BNA says “sustained flights begin at 60 d”–the youngest in the brood is at least 10 days younger than this. So this is a pretty exceptional nesting no matter how you look at it. To have four young successfully fledge like this, and in record time!

We wish the four fledglings luck in the big wide world, and hope to see them again in future years!

UPDATE: follow the recent progress of the nearly full-grown young here

Back in April, during the fickle early springtime of upstate New York, a pair of Great Blue Herons placed a bet that the dead tree in the middle of the pond at Sapsucker Woods would be perfect for a nest. It was a bold move—to our knowledge no Great Blue Herons had ever nested anywhere in Sapsucker Woods at all, let alone two-thirds of the way up a giant, aged, windblown snag.

Lab staff and visitors watched with excitement and a bit of anxiety as the nest grew from a few haphazard sticks to a bulky structure three feet across. Weeks passed before we saw the first fuzzy head emerge from the interior, and then another. During June we saw adults feeding four gangly chicks, and now in July we’re starting to wonder when we’ll see their first attempts at flight.

The photographers among us have been capturing the proceedings all along – with long lenses, by digiscoping, and even just pointing their cell phones through a telescope (something we’ve started to call “iphoniscoping”***). Visitors started to ask us for a way to collect some of these photos in one place, so we put together this slideshow for you. We hope you enjoy it.

Come visit soon, and you can see the nest for yourself!

(Images are by Laura Erickson and Charles Eldermire [first photo]. Thanks also to the Great Blue Herons for the chance to watch them all summer.)

***We’re not even kidding—one of Charles Eldermire’s “iphoniscoped” shots of the heron pair made it into today’s Lens photoblog at the New York Times. It’s the cover image in the slideshow above.