Changing heron behavior?

By Lindstedt and Gazaille

Last fall, we began a research project that involved studying the behavior of the Great Blue Heron and it’s nesting habitat. We have made several trips to what is known as “Heron Island” on Lake Norman. Our first objective was to record baseline data, which included counting the nests in each tree, measuring DBH of nesting trees, and measuring canopy coverage of nesting trees. We had discovered under each nest there were an abundance of skeletal remains. At first, we thought it was mainly prey animals that the heron parents provided to the hatchlings, but to our surprise the majority of these skeletal remains were of the hatchlings themselves. This provided us insight into the mortality rate of the hatchlings.

Heron take-off. Credit John Simmons

Heron take-off. Credit John Simmons

Another interesting observation we made were the adult herons in their foraging habitat around Lake Norman. We noticed that adult herons on Lake Norman do not have the ability to wade because of the lack of shallow shore lines. This is due to Lake Norman being a man-made lake. Has this feature changed the foraging behavior of this specific heron group on Lake Norman? The herons have adapted to this by standing on shoreline trees, piers, and docks to hunt either fish or small mammals on the shoreline. Our main objective is to attempt to understand these different adaptations that these specific herons have acquired in the Piedmont region of NC.

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