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Grey Heron -The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

21st Nov 2019

So, we know ways to protect our ponds from them, I thought however it would be good to do a ‘Meet the Heron’ type blog, it may help us learn to appreciate them as a wonderful animal too.

In our industry it is easy to list the bad points of Herons, so let’s have a look at the bird itself. One of the easiest birds to recognise around rivers, ponds or flying through the air with their iconic long legs trailed behind them. The Grey Heron is a bird that is native to Europe, Africa and Parts of Asia - some of the more northernly populations will also migrate southwards in winter too.

The Heron is one of the most graceful predators in the way it catches its prey, it wades, stands silently and patiently waits for its perfect opportunity to strike. Herons feed predominantly on Aquatic species, but it has been known for smaller mammals to be eaten by them too as the unfortunate rodent below found out! Fish will usually be swallowed whole, however larger prey such as eels will be taken to the shore and bashed until motionless, then eaten.

Its hard to appreciate the size of a Grey Heron until you see one up close, some adults stand at up to one metre in height and weigh between 1 to 2 kg, they have a white head and neck with a broad white stripe that goes all the way from the eye to the black crest. The heron’s wings are a pale grey with black tips to them, with the underbody being white. Their pinkish yellowy beaks are long, pointy and sharp, perfect for spiking unsuspecting fish.

Herons Breed high up in trees, this is usually in colonies known as heronries. Breeding high up keeps their eggs safe from other predators. Interestingly herons will re-use and add to their nest year in, year out until it is destroyed or blown away. Their breeding will usually take place in February right through until late June where birds will fly and greet each other by raising and lowering their wings and plumes.

Herons usually have between 2 – 7 eggs, once the incubation process is over the young will be fed by both parents until they fledge at around 7-8 weeks, only around a 3rd of Herons make it into their second year though, being prey themselves. Their life span is on average 5 years, but much older birds have been recorded.

So what about Herons throughout History?

Herons have been recorded throughout history, even in the times of the Pharaohs. The Bennu is an ancient Egyptian deity linked to the Sun, Creation and Re-Birth and may be the inspiration for the phoenix in Greek mythology. It is believed that the Bennu is self-created from a fire in the temple of Ra that burned upon a holy tree, or that it exploded from the heart of Osiris. There is a story that links it to creation, where it flew over the waters of Nun and landed on a rock giving a call that determined creation.

The Heron in Greek Myth - Image

Moving a long way forward and closer to home the Heron was to be a hugely popular dish to eat at very special occasions, there is a transcription from Cawood Castle in September 1465. Here was a very special occasion indeed, the appointment of the Archbishop of York George Neville. To show wealth and the power of their family The Neville’s invited 50 Knights, 28 Peers, 7 Bishops, Lawyers, Clergy, Esquires and ladies, to join a feast that numbered over 2500 guests.

The shopping list was a little different from that of a modern gathering, and included:

4000 Pigeons, 2000 Chickens, 4000 Crays, 204 Cranes, 200 Quails, 104 Peacocks, 400 Swans, 400 Herons, 113 Oxen, 608 Pike and Bream, 12 Porpoises and seals, Six Bulls, 304 Calves, 2000 Pigs, 400 plovers (Bird) 1000 Capons (Chicken Fattened for Eating) 4000 Mallard and teals, 204 Kid Goats and 204 Bitterns (Part of the Heron Family) 200 Pheasants, 500 Partridges, 100 Curlews, 400 Woodcocks, 1000 Egrets, 500 Stags, roes and Bucks, 4000 Cold Pies, 1500 Hot Venison Pies, 4000 Baked Tarts, 4000 dishes of Jelly, 2000 hots custards. This was all served with bread, sugared sweets and cakes, over 300 tons of ale and 100 tons of wine washed it all down!

I will be visiting some more pond predators in the next few blogs too!