The gray heron is one of the most common representatives of storks. It lives mainly on the territory of Belarus in swampy regions. This is a fairly large and very beautiful bird. In addition to Belarus, it can be found in some regions of Eurasia and even in Africa. The name of the species in translation into Russian means “ash bird”.
Origin of the species and description
The gray heron is a representative of the chordates, belongs to the class of birds, the stork order, the heron family, the heron genus, the gray heron species. In ancient times, until the middle of the 19th century, the bird was considered harmful, bringing misfortune. Its nests were always destroyed, and adults were killed in large numbers.
Persons of a noble family considered falconry for a gray heron to be interesting entertainment. Although they noted that they do not use its meat for food because of not too high taste characteristics. As a result of such human activity, many regions of Europe, previously beloved by herons, have lost this beautiful representative of flora and fauna.
Video: Gray heron
Many Renaissance artists admired the natural beauty of this graceful bird and often depicted it on their canvases. You can also find her image in some still lifes as a hunting trophy. The image of this representative of birds in Chinese folk art is very common. On some souvenirs, Chinese artists depicted this bird along with a lotus, as a symbol of success, joy and prosperity.
Under the influence of Chinese folk art, in which the heron often featured, her image became very popular in central Europe, and many Asian countries.
Appearance and features
The gray heron is a large and very beautiful, even majestic bird. Her height is 75-100 centimeters. The average body weight of one adult is 2 kilograms. Sexual dimorphism is practically not expressed. Females are distinguished by their lower body mass. The gray heron is the owner of a large, massive, elongated body. A distinctive feature of birds is a long, thin and very graceful neck. In flight, the heron, unlike other species of storks, does not pull it forward, but folds it so that the head practically rests on the body.
Birds have very long and thin limbs. They are gray in color. The limbs are four-fingered: three fingers point forward, one back. The fingers have long claws. The claw on the middle finger is especially long, as it plays an important role in the implementation of hygiene procedures. From the broken feathers on the body of the bird, powders are formed, on which a special substance is formed that prevents the feathers from sticking together from the mucus of the fish eaten. It is the longest claw that helps the birds to lubricate the feathers with this powder.
The gray heron has long, rounded wings. The wingspan length is about two meters. This shape and size of the wing is perfectly adapted to long flights over long distances. The bird is endowed by nature with a sharp, long and very powerful beak. He helps her get food for herself and defend herself from enemies. With such a beak, she is able to kill rodents the size of a small rabbit. The length of the beak reaches 15-17 centimeters in some individuals. The beak can be of different colors: from light and pale yellow to dark brown.
The plumage is loose and at the same time quite dense. The colors are dominated by gray, white, various shades of ashy. The upper part of the body is painted in a darker color compared to the lower part. The back of the gray heron's head is often adorned with a crest of long, dark feathers.
Where does the gray heron live?
The habitat of the bird is quite large. Regardless of the region, she always settles near water bodies. The total area of bird habitat is about 63 million square kilometers. Birds are distributed over most of Europe, Asia and in certain regions of the African continent. In Eurasia, herons are ubiquitous, right up to the gray taiga. The exceptions are deserts and areas with high mountains.
Geographical regions of the gray heron:
- Mediterranean coast;
- Southeast Asia;
- Great Sunda Islands;
- Sri Lanka;
- Separate regions of Russia.
Gray herons are also found in mountainous areas in those regions where the height of the mountains does not exceed 1000 meters above sea level. Birds always settle near fresh water bodies, in the shallow water of which they get their own food. Herons live in nests, which they independently make after creating a pair. They are attached to these nests for most of their lives, since even those populations that tend to migrate again return to their homes.
Birds that live in cold climates migrate with the onset of cold weather to warmer countries. With the onset of spring, they always return to their native lands.
Now you know where the gray heron is found. Let's see what this bird eats.
What does the gray heron eat?
The main food source is fish. In former times, it was believed that birds impoverished the flora and fauna of water bodies, eating a huge amount of fish. In this regard, they were destroyed in large quantities. However, today it has been proven that herons, on the contrary, are beneficial, clearing water bodies of parasite-infested fish.
It is noteworthy that each individual in the process of life develops its own method of obtaining food. Most often, they go into the water and, standing on one leg, motionlessly wait for the right moment to catch food. Some individuals spread their wings, thus shading the body of water and intently look at what is happening under their feet. It eats birds that just roam the coast looking for prey.
As soon as the bird sees the prey, it stretches its neck with lightning speed and grabs it with its beak across the body. Then, with an instant throw, it flips and swallows. If the prey is large, then the heron first divides it into parts. A powerful beak also helps her a lot in this, which easily breaks bones and crushes prey.
The food base of the gray heron:
- various types of fish;
- large insects;
- water rats;
- small animals;
Herons can steal food from other animals. If there are human settlements nearby, they may well feed on food waste or products of the fish farming industry.
Character and lifestyle features
Depending on climatic conditions, the gray heron leads a nomadic or sedentary lifestyle. Birds living on the territory of the Russian Federation, Belarus always fly to warmer countries with the onset of the first autumn cold snap. This is due to the fact that the bird will not be able to provide itself with food in harsh winters.
Bird migration is carried out in small groups. In rare exceptions, the number of these flocks exceeds two hundred individuals. Lone individuals are practically not found on migration. During the flight, they fly at great heights both day and night.
When living in their usual territory, they settle in groups, nest in separate colonies, forming several dozen nests in a relatively small area. Birds tend to form colonies with other species of storks, as well as other types of birds – storks, ibis.
The gray heron is not active at a strictly defined time of day. They can be very active both during the day and at night. Most of the time they are awake and hunting. They also spend a lot of time cleaning their plumage.
Social structure and reproduction
The period of puberty is reached by birds at the age of 1-2 years. By nature, it is a mohogamous bird.
Interesting fact: During the mating season, the beak and all parts of the body that are not covered with feathers acquire a bright orange or pink color. This feature is characteristic of both males and females.
In those regions where the climate is cold, and birds migrate to warmer countries for the winter, they build nests immediately after returning to their homeland – in late March, early April. In warm countries, where birds do not need to migrate, there is no pronounced migration and reference to the season.
Nest building is started by the male. Then he calls the female for help: he spreads his wings, throws his head back and makes croaking sounds. When a female approaches him, he chases her away. This procedure is repeated several times. When the male finally accepts the female, a pair is formed, which already completes the nest together. It is most often located on tall trees, has a height of 50-70 centimeters, a diameter of 60-80 centimeters. Birds are incredibly attached to their nest and use it for many years if possible.
Each female lays 1 to 8 eggs. Most often, there are 4-5 of them. They have a pointed shape on both sides and a bluish-green with white color. After laying eggs, the birds incubate together for 26-27 days. Chicks are born completely naked and helpless. Feathers begin to grow from the second week of their life. Parents alternately feed the chicks with food that they regurgitate from their own stomach. Feeding is carried out three times a day. Some chicks get less food. In this case, stronger and larger chicks take food from the weak, and the weak in this case most often die.
At the age of three months, the chicks begin to prepare for independent life. They learn to fly and eat adult food. The average life expectancy of a bird under favorable conditions is 17-20 years.
Natural enemies of gray herons
The gray heron is a fairly large bird, which is naturally endowed with a sharp and very powerful beak. In this regard, she is able to defend herself against many enemies. However, it often becomes the prey of larger and stronger predators.
Natural enemies of the gray heron:
- raccoon dog;
- water and amphibian rats;
- predatory species of birds;
- marsh harrier;
Natural enemies not only prey on adults, but also destroy nests, eating chicks and feathered eggs. Herons are also very susceptible to various diseases, especially parasites. This is facilitated by the way of life and the nature of nutrition. The main food source is fish and crustaceans. They are the carriers of a large number of parasites. Eating them, the heron automatically becomes an intermediate host of a large number of parasites.
The low survival rate of chicks in the first year contributes to the reduction in numbers. It is only 35%. From the second year, the mortality of birds begins to gradually decline. Also, humans are among the main and significant enemies of the gray heron. Its activity leads to pollution of the natural habitat, as a result of which the bird dies. Swamps and water areas near which it lives are polluted with pesticides.
Another reason for the decrease in the number of birds is changing climatic conditions. A cold, prolonged spring with snow and prolonged downpours also contributes to the death of birds that are completely unadapted to survival in such conditions.
Population and species status
The population is large in almost all regions of its habitat. The bird is very common in various parts of the world. According to the International Association for the Protection of Animals, the number of gray herons does not cause any concern. As of 2005, the population of this bird ranged from 750,000 to 3,500,000 individuals. The most numerous populations live in Russia, Belarus, China and Japan.
As of 2005, about 155 – 185 thousand pairs of these birds lived in European countries. On the territory of Central Europe, the gray heron is practically the only remaining large bird. In the same period, there were approximately 30-70 thousand pairs on the territory of the Russian Federation. Zoologists have noted a trend towards an increase in the population in the territory of this country. However, in some regions of the habitat of Russia, the number of this representative of storks has significantly decreased. These regions include Yakutia, Kamchatka, Khabarovsk Krai, Kemerovo, Tomsk, Nizhny Novgorod regions.
The bird is very sensitive to the cleanliness of the ecological habitat, and therefore this adversely affects its numbers in certain regions. Human use of huge amounts of pesticides has caused a decrease in the number of birds near industrial and agricultural facilities where the use of these chemicals is common. Deforestation also negatively affects the number of birds.
The gray heron is one of the most beautiful birds. It has become a symbol of many regions and is often depicted on various attributes of national symbols. Birds feel quite comfortable on the territory of national parks and reserves, where they also live in large numbers.