Sunday, 31 January 2016

The Great Grey Heron Family

So one particular family that I’m looking forward to following in the next few months are the Great Grey Herons. We are very lucky to have such a large siege at Wollaton, and with about six males spotted so far, waiting at their nest for the right lady to come along, we could have a very exciting few months ahead as we wait and see these birds trying to produce offspring of their own.
The Siege of Herons waiting for their ladies  in the willow tree
Normally herons are solitary animals, but at Wollaton there is a diverse array of prey, with many fish, insects, crustaceans, frogs and even small mammals – all of which they may choose to forage on. As breeding season is nearing, these birds have gathered to nest in the trees on an island in the middle of the lake, close to the water to hunt for food. It is easy to see the huge nests spanning a few feet across on the Willow tree and the taller trees around, with the males guarding and waiting for a potential female.
The female heron watching me intently
At this time of year, the males remain at their selected resting sites in these trees, and will try to attract females to choose for a mate. Grey Herons are socially monogamous throughout the breeding season, and both sexes must consent before this partnership is formed to produce young. The male will make low grating calls to attract potential mates, and the female will express an interest by approaching the nest sites. If at this point the male is not interested in the female however, he will express his opinion by chasing the female away from his nesting site. Only if both individuals deem the other to be a worthwhile partner will they begin a romantic dance during courtship. The female will perform a series of neck stretching, thrusting, and bowing, followed by the male’s lunging and bill clapping used to impress the female. These individuals will then work together to begin preparing the home for a family.

The male and female pair preparing their nest for spring
At the moment it seems that only one pair has formed from the selection of males available at Wollaton. It is great to see this couple newly joined, and I can’t wait to see how they do in producing young. Hopefully we will soon have some more pairs on the lake, and we may catch some courtship displays as new pairs form for the season.

On another note, while photographing and watching the herons, I could not help but notice how beautiful the mallards feathers looked, reflecting the light of the sun. So I have a few duck pictures to share as well...

A Mallard male basking in the sun

A female mallard, with the light catching the dust on the water's surface

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