You can see them in Sandy Hook Bay, Jamaica Bay, Great Kills, Fresh Kills, and even in the Navesink River. As long as ice-free, open water remains for this bird to find their favorite food, of course fish, it can be seen all winter long.
Great Blue Herons are tall birds with a length of around 4 feet and a wingspan of 6 feet. So large in fact, it’s our tallest native bird in New York Harbor and our largest heron in eastern North America.
Yet, notwithstanding their impressive size, a Great Blue Heron can be difficult to find during the winter. Its overall gray and dark feathers blend in perfectly with the frequently colorless winter landscape. The bird can also be a solitary hunter, standing motionless for long periods of time, and moving slowly. Our eyes often miss this beautiful bird.
Only when we look closely or we glimpse a sudden movement in a grassy field, wetland or along a coastline do we notice its presence. Frequently the bird is searching for fish, but also small mammals, including mice and voles. When its prey comes within reach, the long powerful neck of the Great Blue explodes to full extension to strike down the animal with a rapid thrust of its sharp bill. The poor critter didn’t have a chance as it’s swallowed headfirst.
Great Blues are highly adaptable birds, an important reason why this species can be spotted around NY Harbor during the winter. While many herons head south for the winter, there are always a few stubborn birds that stick around. Only heading down south when all open water has frozen over and it’s nearly impossible to find food.
Soon after St. Patrick’s Day, all herons will return to New York Harbor. Beginning another busy nesting season, breeding in colonies on abandoned islands and remote places around the harbor.
But for now, a few hardy herons are happy to spend the winter here, in sight of snow and tall skyscrapers. Sitting quietly in the shallows scanning the water or wetlands for fish and other tasty food.