Northwest Wanderings, a column that explores places and communities through photos, checks on the Seattle area's great blue herons.
If great blue herons mated for life they would not have to go through these rituals each year.
Though monogamous, they like to have another dating-and-mating opportunity each season, unlike bald eagles and trumpeter swans that have life partners.
This is the start of the herons’ time in the nest, which lasts several months. With human residents required to stay home, check out videos from heron nest webcams, including this one from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
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Forming colonies, also known as rookeries or heronries, of stick-built nests high in the trees, these big birds don’t have songs to serenade their partners, but loud, low squawks from knife-like beaks.
Considering their size — standing at least 3 feet tall with a 6-foot wingspan — they move about nests with deliberateness and agility.
Patience seems to be a trait. They’ll stare at each other, one opening its beak, then the other.
“You talkin’ to me?” No, “you talkin’ to me?”
They’ll bow to each other.
One will leave the nest to climb down to another branch, carefully selecting more construction material, breaking off just the right branch for an addition or repair to their home.
The male does the retrieving, the female the weaving.
Others fly off in search of the right twigs.
As hunters they can be seen in the shallows, standing motionless, eyes fixed on the water, waiting for a fish, or maybe a frog, even a small snake to come by. Their quickness in seizing prey is remarkable.
As the trees around a heron colony leaf out, it’ll be difficult to see a nest, and that makes it better protection from predators. Eagles in particular will seize chicks if a nest is not safely tucked away. A daring raccoon might try climbing up to steal an egg.
The colony high in the trees on the south side of the Ballard Locks shows adaptability to urban movements and sounds. There’s the railroad bridge just to the west, boat noise and instructions to marine traffic from loud speakers at the locks, and rumbling trucks and cars not far below.
The colony in Marymoor Park, usually more than two dozen nests, adapts to the dogs in the off-leash area many stories below.
“One of the cool things about them,” says Connie Sidles, master Audubon birder, “is in breeding season, the soles of their feet turn gold color.”
That can be seen when they fly off, gliding high above.
They’re also the official Seattle bird, so designated in 2003 by the City Council.