Chestnut Color on Great Blue Heron

Waterfowl hunting season is finally over and I now feel a little more comfortable wandering about local waterways. At the first opportunity Leonard and I went to Baum Lake (Lassen County CA) to check out the wildlife and were not disappointed.

The great blue herons (Ardea herodias) are already gathering in the ponderosa pines surrounding the lake where these pictures were taken. Over the last three years I followed the herons through their breeding season with many posts (including “Great Blue Heron Nesting”, “Twig Presentation“, “Already Sitting“, “Great Blue Heron Babies“) so will not belabor the subject to excess this year.

Most people think of great blue herons in flight as large blue grey birds. Sitting or standing the white and black on the herons’ heads and necks are more distinct. The chestnut or rusty plumage of great blue herons is often ignored, even by many field guides.

Great blue herons have distinctive chestnut or rusty colored thighs. This feature is especially obvious as a heron approaches its nest to land. The neck of a great blue heron is grey, often with a chestnut tinge on the sides and back of the neck. There is also a chestnut patch at the bend of the wing (leading edge). In the field the patches are called “headlights” when the heron is flying and “epaulettes” if they are visible when the bird is standing. In the photographs all three areas of chestnut plumage on the great blue heron are visible.

It is wonderful to again observe the great blue herons as they enter their breeding season.

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