The great blue heron hunts at the edge of the wetlands, storing up fat for the winter

Photo by Carl Jappe

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Running with Birds by Rebecca Pugh

If you are running along the river or the salt marsh and hear the”fronk a fronk” call of a huge silvery bird, take note.

The great blue heron stands poised at the water’s edge, sometimes for hours, searching beneath the surface for prey. When it spots a fish, it bends to snap it up with its muscular beak. It swallows this fish in one bite.

Every fall, local great blue herons of Ipswich fly south, some as far as the Caribbean. At nearly the same time, northern great blues arrive here from Canada.

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Great blue herons are with us all winter, but not the same ones that are here in the summer. The local summer ones migrate south, and new ones travel here from the north.

Great blue herons go through different cycles; sometimes they are company-seekers, and sometimes they are loners. When they roost, they choose the safety of community and flock together.

They spend their nights in secluded wetland sites and join together with hundreds of other egrets and herons. They nest in the same manner; they raise their young in great noisy colonies.

But when they hunt, they tend to be alone, concentrating on the movements beneath the surface of the oceans and ponds and marshes near here.

In these hunting times, they are silent sentinels of a healthy wetlands system as they search for aquatic creatures.

Great blue herons face several challenges with modern industrial times. With the presence of dams in the rivers where they hunt, fish are not able to swim upstream to breed as easily as they used to be able to do.

Fish ladders make a heroic effort at supporting fish swimming upstream for spawning, but many fish cannot make it up a ladder to get high enough upstream to lay their eggs.

Food sources for herons are limited, then, by the dams in the river. To support great blue herons, we do well to advocate for dam removal on our local rivers and national waterways.

Great blue herons are in several locations in Ipswich this week. So if you are running by a wetland area, and you hear the “fronkCall of a great blue or see it poised at the far edge of a marsh, you can pick up your pace and give it a silent blessing.

It has made it here against incredible odds, migrating to its winter habitat in Ipswich, and it is searching for its meal. You are running with great blue herons, and you are in good company.

Rebecca Pugh is a storyteller, musician, and runner. Her training comes from the Mass Audubon Society, ornithologist Jim Berry, and her aunt Pam Goff. Her research begins each week with “All About Birds” at the Cornell Ornithological Labs.

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