Great Blue Heron Mating Habits

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Great blue herons stand almost 4 feet tall and have a 6-foot wingspan. These impressive birds winter across the United States and into South America. Breeding occurs in early spring in Canada and the northern United States. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of great blue heron courtship rituals are their complex displays.

Breeding Colonies

Great blue herons are typically not social creatures. Due to their need for a large amount of food, they prefer to keep a large territory for themselves. As breeding season commences, however, they begin to gather in colonies ranging from just a few to hundreds of birds. According to the University of Massachusetts, the colonies congregate in forested wetlands or on islands with trees.


Great blue herons don't mate for life, but they do have elaborate courtship rituals that help pairs form strong bonds. Their mating displays include bill snapping, neck stretching, moaning calls, preening, circular flights, twig shaking, twig exchanging, crest raising and even bill duels. Scuffles over females are common, but never end in death. Once their complex dance is finished, the male and the female heron will have the strong bond necessary to raise their hatchlings together.


Males choose nesting sites and supply females with the materials to build the nest. Nests are large, 3 three wide by 3 feet high, and are built high in trees to keep them safe from predators. Herons build their nests in about a week, but construction continues throughout incubation and after the eggs have hatched. Eggs are incubated for about 28 days; both partners share in the duties of incubation and care of hatchlings.


About the Author

Melissa Monks began writing professionally in 2003 and spent four years writing for the Beutler Heating and Air company newsletter. She also spent two years as a content director for, publishing projects and blogs, and has worked as a research assistant for One On One, a company publishing educational material. Monks received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Utah.