Sunday, April 11, 2010

Catch-up: 2. Blue Heron mating sequence

Below, you see the heron pair I have named Stanley and Sue. I'm not having a lot of luck following them, even though their nest is on the outside of a branch, and easy to identify. I'm pretty sure Sue is sitting on eggs, so Stanley must be carrying out his manly duties, but I guess he's shy. I haven't once seen him any more intimate with Sue than what you see in this picture below. It has also been several weeks since I've seen him fly in or out of the nest. When I arrive, he is either away, only to return sometime after I leave, or sitting beside Sue on a branch, where he remains until I leave. Do you suppose he knows I'm watching him? All this to say, I wish the mating sequence photos shown below were of my chosen pair, but that is not to be.

Instead, I have been honoured to witness this pair, named, for purposes of this post, Mom and Pop. (I'm always open to suggestions for names.) They share the same tree as Stanley and Sue, but their nest is right in the middle, where it will soon be completely hidden by leaves. The irony is that they are not shy at all. I feel a bit guilty displaying their love life for all the world to witness, but in truth, I don't think they would mind.

Here, Pop flies in, and arranges himself behind Mom.

He prepares, now, to take Mom's neck in his bill. I have seen them mate three times, and have also watched other pairs, and this seems to be standard practice.

My guess is that this has something to do with keeping his balance, and holding Mom steady.

Mating probably completed here.

Now, he begins to release her.

Mom seems so small in this picture.

But, a second later, she stretches up.

A little side-by-side stretch,
and then, to the business of preparing the nest for the chicks.

Pop leaves to find a stick.

He doesn't go far.

In fact, he just flies to a tree across the road, where he selects a branch.

I missed Pop's return to the nest, so that concludes the steps I was able to capture in one round of many in Mom and Pop's mating life.

Watching them inspired some curiosity about Blue Heron mating rituals and I found this account written by W.Powell Cottrille and Betty Darling Cottrille, of the Museum of Zoology, Unversity of Michigan. It is a 15-page document, and I'm not certain that link will work for you, so here is one small quote that I found interesting:

On March 28, many nests contained pairs. Some herons were still standing by quietly, but most of them were actively engaged in courtship. Sometimes a bird crouching in a nest would extend its neck over the edge and snap its bill loudly. Two birds on a nest would jab at each other with their bills, then grasp each other's mandibles and "seesaw" back and forth. They would snap their bills audibly a s they extended their necks over the edge of the nest. Often they would c r o s s their necks below the nest before making the snap. In some nests a pair of herons would stroke each other's head, neck, and back with their bills, or one would grab a stick from the nest and shake it. Often a pair of herons would suddenly stop their courtship activities and take flight, one in the lead. They usually flew to the north in the direction of the lake and disappeared from sight. They soon returned and resumed the activities described above. We first observed copulation on this day.

I have seen what I have been calling "bill clacking" frequently, usually after the male has brought a stick to the nest. Here are two examples.

This next picture shows a male that arrived home with no stick. He crept along the branch, each footstep in slower than slow-motion action. His mate didn't even look up from nest building, and suddenly, he flew off again, as if to apologize for returning empty-handed. (No anthropomorphism in my interpretation at all.)

I like this picture for the detail it gives of the underside of the wings and body.

The rest of the pictures in this post are just ones that I happened to like, and have little to do with the post title. No commentary - except to add that flight continues to fascinate me. This little quote, taken from a wildwatchcam page, describes it so well:
In flight the great blue heron slowly beats its 7-foot wingspan, head folded back on shoulders, long legs trailing in the behind.
Thanks for reading, everyone. The next post, following shortly, will be a Bill and Black Jack one.


  1. I hope to follow heron's in Victoria! I seem to remember that it was Stanley and Stella from A Streetcar Named Desire but perhaps I am mistaken. Sue is a great name also!! Phyllis

  2. Ah, Phyllis. It was Stella--but that Stanley is sooo fickle!

    Carol--This "album" is truly one of your most amazing! Every shot is fascinating and brilliantly photographed! Very much worth the wait.

  3. Beautiful photos and interesting commentary, Carol - I particularly love the last photo.
    Their mating ritcual gives a whole new meaning to the word "necking"!

  4. Thanks for the comments!

    Phyllis, my very first post, over a year and a half ago, had named two offspring in a nest Stanley and Sue. I remembered that, but forgot about Stanley and Stella, of last year's nest. My thought process went back to the beginning I guess, and although I prefer the ring of "Stanley and Stella," will go with that choice. Lovely to get your comment, though:)

    Aw, thanks, EvenSong. Don't blame Stanley, though. He may be randy, but he's a good boy at heart:)

    Thanks, Jean! I liked that last photo too, and loved your humour!

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  6. Your photos are absolutely gorgeous, thank you so much for sharing. :)