Great blue herons are large wading birds that live in freshwater wetland habitats in North and Central America. In fact, as the largest herons native to North America, they are known for their distinctive long-legged, long-necked appearance. With their beautiful gray-blue plumage, they are easy to spot. But one thing that can be quite tricky is seeing the difference between men and women. While they are both incredibly similar, there are a few subtle differences that make distinguishing the two a little easier. So join us as we take a closer look at great blue heron males vs. females!
Comparing Male and Female Great Blue Heron
|Mate||6 to 8 pounds
Up to 54 inches long
|4.5 to 6 pounds
34 to 40 inches long
|Youthful appearance||Develop white feathers on the head for the females. Legs turn bright orange at the beginning of the breeding season||Develop white feathers on the head later than males. Legs remain gray at the beginning of the breeding season|
|mating behavior||Fly in large circles over the breeding area while calling loudly. Fight other men for their chosen wife||Stay in one place while calling to the males|
|Nesting behavior||Choose the nest site and bring nesting material to the female||Builds the nest with the materials the male provides for her|
The 4 Main Differences Between Male and Female Great Blue Heron
The main differences between male and female great blue herons are size, nesting behavior, juvenile appearance and mating behavior.
Let’s look at them in detail below.
Male vs Female Great Blue Heron: Size
Great blue herons exhibit sexual dimorphism, meaning that different sexes of the same species have different sizes. In this case, male great blue herons are larger than the females. Females tend to weigh between 4.5 and 6 pounds while males are heavier than them at 6 to 8 pounds. Males are also longer than females and are up to 54 inches in length while females are about 36 to 40 inches. The size of their beaks also varies – males have a slightly longer bill than females.
Male vs Female Great Blue Heron: Youthful Appearance
Great blue herons are not fully grown until they are three years old. Juvenile males and females look different as they age, making them easier to tell apart. Juveniles are generally a much duller color than adults – they have a black-gray crown, less defined markings on the flanks and a grey-yellow bill. During their first spring, males develop the white feathers on their heads and the black plumes on their crests before the females do. In addition, the legs of the male at the beginning of their third year (at sexual maturity) turn bright orange at the beginning of the breeding season, while the legs of the female remain gray.
Male vs Female Great Blue Heron: Mating Behavior
One of the most important aspects of a great blue heron’s life — and for the survival of the species — is choosing a mate. Unlike many other birds, great blue herons do not mate for life. Instead, they form a monogamous pair that stay together throughout the breeding season and then choose new mates the following year. To choose a mate, great blue herons undertake a courtship ritual. However, the roles of the men and women are very different.
Great blue herons nest in large colonies and the males usually arrive at the nesting sites earlier than the females to choose a suitable nest site. They then fly in huge circles over the breeding grounds while calling on the females in an attempt to court them. During this circular flight, the males tend to use extremely slow strokes of their wings and fly with their necks fully extended. Fights often break out between the males as they fight for the attention of the females, but these fights are rarely fatal. While the males go out of their way to show off as the most suitable mate, the females sit in one spot and call out until the right mate presents itself.
Male vs Female Great Blue Heron: Nesting Behavior
Just like during the courtship ritual, the roles of the males and females during the nesting process are very different. As we mentioned above, the males tend to choose the nest site before the females arrive at the nesting sites. Sometimes he chooses a brand new location to build a nest from scratch, or other times he chooses an old nest. Once the male and female have successfully bonded, the male selects the materials needed to build the nest and brings it to the female. Very often they present the twigs and leaves to the female with a bit of an appearance. This involves dropping them for her while screeching (and being pretty proud of themselves!)
Once the male provides the female with the necessary materials, it is the female’s turn. The female great blue herons take sole responsibility for building the nest (or repairing it if it is an old nest). Nests can take up to a week to build, which is not surprising considering they are quite large! Great blue heron nests are usually about 2 feet wide when first built, but can eventually grow to be about 3 feet wide and 3 feet deep. Nests are made of twigs, but then lined with leaves, moss and other plant material.
The females lay up to 6 eggs and the incubation tasks are shared by both parents. It takes about 25-30 days for the eggs to hatch, although not all of them hatch at the same time. Instead, they hatch over a period of several days, with the chick born first being the strongest. The firstborn also grows the fastest and is the most aggressive in food.