Around Winchester

Birds of a (Blue) Feather

Lauren Baker

            Shenandoah University is home to many different kinds of birds, from the (infamous) Canada Geese to simple House Sparrows. Among the many species that can be seen on campus is the majestic Great Blue Heron.

            At least one specimen of this large waterbird has been spotted in several locations at SU, from the ponds near Sarah’s Glen to the creek that runs across campus. Oftentimes its stillness causes people to miss it as they walk by. 

            I myself have encountered this stately bird more than once while walking across campus. It rarely moves when under scrutiny—usually resulting in an awkward staring match as one passes.

            But aside from simply seeing the Great Blue Heron on campus, what do we really know about it? What makes it special? What does it eat? Where does it live? All these questions can be answered with a little digging. 

            According to the Audubon Guide to North American Birds webpage, the Great Blue Heron is a widespread species. They are “the largest herons in North American and are considered a nongame species protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act” says Dr. Joshua Kincaid of SU’s Environmental Science Department.

            Great Blues are thin and lanky, with long necks and legs and large wings. They are primarily grey-blue in color (obviously), with white-and-black heads and black-marked undersides.

            “In flight they are easily recognized by their slow, soft wing beats and long legs that trail behind them” says Dr. Joshua Kincaid of Shenandoah’s Environmental Sciences Department.

The species inhabits areas close to water all over the United States—even more unlikely environments such as the Alaskan coastline. Dr. Kincaid confirms this: “Herons are commonly found near or in freshwater habitats such as marshes, lakes, and streams (like Abrams Creek that flows through campus)”. 

            The large bird’s diet is incredibly diverse, as described by the Audubon Guide. They can and will eat anything from fish to reptiles to small mammals other birds. 

According to Dr. Kincaid, “Breeding pairs typically form colonies (i.e. rookeries) of stick nests high in large trees”. This correlates with the facts garnered from Audubon—that Great Blues create rookeries with several nests at a time in the trees.

It is amazing how much there is to learn about the different creatures on campus. Many people walk by every day without so much as a second thought—yet it can be rewarding to find out new things about the wildlife we take for granted. 

Take a look around campus next time you’re out walking. Who knows—maybe you’ll see the Heron!

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