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.


  • What a wonderful slide show!

  • Debi

    Oh, wow! How fortunate you are to have them nesting so closely. Great photo opp!

  • Becci

    That was so cool! We have a huge GBH colony in the area (80 nests or so?) and though one can observe them easily throughout early spring, the trees always leaf out and obscure the nests by the time the babies are born. And so I’m really excited to see this slideshow. Please keep us updated!

  • We stopped at the lab today and spent the afternoon walking the trail around the pond. There was a lot of flapping of wings, and moving around, but we were only able to see three chicks from any vantage point during the day.

  • AMAZING!! Thank you so much for sharing these wonderful photos and observations!

  • red birds can lay blue eggs and when the egg hatches it will lay brand new egg…. and Wish that I had a bird for pet

  • woow

  • I’ve posted new photos, including some with them quite big now, here:

  • Ellen V.

    What a thrill! Good flying fledglings!

  • Sandy

    WHat wonderful photos….Thanks so much

  • Incredible show! I visited with family here from N.J. who photographed the young family in their nest. Once in a lifetime opportunity. The Lab is a “must see” for anyone visiting Ithaca.

  • Joyce Wolff

    I’d like to see a cowbird take a crack at this nest.

    These photos made me smile.

  • Thank you for sharing this. What a treat to see the little ones. We have GBH’s here but only see them solitare and in hunting mode.

  • Betty

    thank you ….. what a treat to see.

  • Hooray ! Great pictures, photos teach us about the wonders of nature.

  • B.Webb

    Wonderful pictures. Thank you.

  • c. kroscher

    Thoroughly enjoyed the slide show. Quality of the shots is excellent. Dates and times on some of the shots would help to understand the chronology of the whole breeding-fledging cycle. A little shorter view time for each picture would be adequate.

  • This past weekend (August 1 and 2) the chicks were all in the nest each time I checked, and one of the parents was giving a big feeding in the nest at mid-afternoon. Monday all four young left the nest for the day, but all were back in the nest by 9 pm. Tuesday only three were in the nest when I left at 8:50 pm. Each parent came in once and fed them between 8:30 and 8:50 pm. I’m pretty sure the smallest fledgling was in the nest, and am hopeful that the oldest of the four is the one spending the most time away because it’s successfully fishing on its own now.

Slideshow: Great Blue Herons Nest Outside Our Window