This time of year, we spend a lot of time on the back porch. Skies are clear, temperatures are comfy once again and the mosquitoes are gone! We sit with friends, laugh at the dogs, feed raisins to our chickens and watch birds crashing around the gardens as they forage on seed stems of old plants.
But when the dogs are indoors and all is quiet, that’s when we see the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) flying towards our pond. He’s kind of hard to miss, looking like a giant pterodactyl flapping its enormous wings as it lands:
Standing 4′ tall with a 6′ wingspan, the Great Blue Heron is the largest heron in North America, and we are always thrilled to see one visiting our small farm pond to hunt for frogs and fish. I can’t say the same for my horses though…when the heron flies directly over them as he lands or takes off, those nervous horses dive for the safety of their stalls!
The heron always uses the same landing strip (the road to our barn) where he first checks out the scene to make sure everything’s safe:
Great Blue Herons will visit small backyard ponds and water features, which does not make them popular with pond owners who raise expensive Koi and Goldfish! A small, shallow water feature full of brightly colored exotic fish is like laying out an all-you-can-eat buffet for herons, raccoons and neighborhood cats. But, in a natural ecosystem backyard pond containing deep pools, aquatic plants and other places for fish and frogs to hide, the Heron is simply part of the food chain in action. In our pond, they mostly eat the abundant catfish, minnows and frogs, but they also eat mice, snakes and some insects, so they can be useful in keeping other undesireable populations under control.
We’ve noticed that our heron usually visits early in the morning, when the farm is quiet. Our 3 dogs have a zero tolerance for large forms of wildlife on the property, so they usually run the Heron out of town when they see him! But on a still evening, we might get lucky and see the Great Blue Heron at work in our pond…and witness nature in action. All that from the back porch!