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Borne on the Wings of Love

Blue herons return for Valentine’s Day

The great blue heron’s return to Chesapeake Country and consequent mating occurs mid-February, bestowing these majestic birds the nickname, lovebirds.
    “Their local nickname, along with love birds, is Johnny Crane,” said Mike Callahan, president of Southern Maryland Audubon Society.
    Herons, however, are not cranes. Cranes fly with necks extended straight, for example, while the herons’ extended necks follow an S-curve. Heron stalk marshland prey and can strike like lightning to grab a fish or snap up a gopher. Cranes eat fish, but they also use their bills to dig in the ground for food.
    Sexually mature at 22 months, herons breed once a year. Though the big birds stay with the partner they choose, they dress up for mating. The bill, normally a dull yellow, brightens to orange at the start of breeding season. Bedecked in fluffy, fresh-molted plumage, they engage in elaborate courtship displays of stretching and bowing.
    When mating, couples glide breast to breast, bills tip to tip, making a goo-goo sound. Breeding birds gather in close-knit colonies among several hundred of their species, building stick nests high off the ground. (Cranes, by the way, tend to build solitary nests.)
    When the colony’s whitewash — the nitrogen in their poop — kills the trees, herons choose another heronery.