Flight of the Great Blue Heron by Mia

May 28, 2020 at 5:24 pm

By Danielle D'Auria

The following story was written by Mia, a fourth grade student at Friends School of Portland. Mia helped with the field work leading up to the capture and tagging of "Harper" the great blue heron, in Harpswell. She was also there the morning Harper was tagged with a GPS transmitter. Thank you, Mia, for sharing your perspective!

Mia's life-sized great blue heron on display at school.

Rustle, rustle. What was that? Raccoon, coyote? Let me check. Is the coast clear? My sharp eyes don’t see anything so, I guess it was just the wind. Yum, these humans were surprisingly nice to leave this fish bucket in the middle of this pond. I should head back to my home tree now...SNAP!

AAAAAAHHHHHH! What's on my foot!? Please tell me it's not a human trap! Oh great, it is! I see humans rushing out of the bushes, so that was that rustling sound!

What are they doing now? One of the humans grabs one of my 3 foot wings and pulls it out to full length. He does the same with the other one, then he mumbles something to his companion. They do more strange things to me, and then I see two human chicks burst from the crowd of humans and walk toward me.

“Can we pet her?” one of them asks. “Sure,” the woman holding me says. The male doesn't approach, but the female does. She approaches me and reaches over and gently strokes my head.

“Hello beautiful one!” She coos in a soft voice. For a while, she just stares at me, and I stare back at her, confused and frightened. What do these humans want with me? I hope they don't want to eat me! Step back now, let the experts do their work, a man says. The girl steps away from me and waves a featherless wing in my direction. Then the adults step forward and attach a strange box with a cord on it to my back. He gives the women holding me a signal, and then, to my great surprise, she actually lets me go!

Hi there, my name is Harper and I'm a great blue heron! In this story you will learn a few important things about my life, such as: what I look like, what I eat, what my behavior is, how I reproduce, and where I live. As you may have found out in the first part of my story, I recently came in contact with a research party in Harpswell, Maine, and to my surprise they let me go!

I have a slate gray body, with chestnut and black accents, and I am VERY tall, I can stand to up to 3 to 4.5 feet tall! My neck and legs are very long as well. I have a six-foot wingspan! I get around by mostly flying, but I sometimes walk.

I nest in high elevations near water, such as trees and sometimes sheltered cliffs or outcrops. I usually live in or near marshes, mudflats, along river valleys, in estuaries, beaches, and on rocky shores. I can fly at 60 days old, and I use my sharp beak stab my prey. My habitat is in danger, farms and pollution are taking over my wetland home.

My main food sources are: fish, amphibians, invertebrates, and even small reptiles and mammals! My predators are: the bald eagle, raccoons red-tailed hawks, great horned owls, and humans. I typically breed in colonies containing several hundred pairs of great blue herons. Nest building starts in February when a male chooses a nesting ground. (I’m glad that is not my job.)

Over the past few years, my population has been declining, greatly. Some people believe it’s because of the bald eagles return off the endangered species list, and others think it is because of pollution. Some ways people have been trying to protect my home are:  keeping wetlands protected, not polluting marshes or stopping all pollution toward marshes, helping to create strong environmental laws to protect my habitat, and continuing to learn more about nesting areas and breeding sites.

It has been a year since I was caught and tagged, and I still have the transmitter on. Right now, I'm heading to the very same pond that I was caught at! As you can probably guess, I'm scared. I slowly approach the pond, then, I look around. Nothing. As I walk across the grass, I see something! It is the human chick that stroked me a year ago! For a while, we just stare at each other, and then, she waves a featherless wing at me.

Mia's paper mache great blue heron in progress.
Mia made sure her great blue heron was true to size and had accurate field marks.