Great blues commonly nest in colonial rookeries, or “heronries”.
There’s a pretty decent chance that, if you live somewhere in the Lower 48 States, you’re not far from the prowling shallows of a great blue heron or two. Huge and primal-looking and generally shy as they are, these spear-billed, ruff-throated wading birds readily stalk along urban and suburban rivers, ditches, lakes, and ponds, staying surprisingly low on the collective human radar given their freezeframe abilities, camouflaged postures, and bottomland predilections.
Great blues commonly nest in colonial rookeries, or "heronries" (which is the kind of word that’s fun to write but hard to say). Ask around—or keep your eyes peeled in late winter and early spring for overhead pterosaur-esque herons toting branches—and you may be able to track down a local heronry along some river or swamp. These tend to be situated in tall trees, not uncommonly dead ones; cottonwoods, given their great height and proximity to water, make classic heronry groves. Heron rookeries may be viewable by paddling, or from some nearby terrestrial vantage—binoculars, naturally, come in handy. On the skyline, heron stick nests manifest as hefty but scraggly clumps in deciduous canopies, quite conspicuous when you know where to look, given nesting activity usually gets underway before the heronry trees fully leaf out.
Once you’ve found a heronry, you can keep tabs on it throughout the nesting season—great blue heron nestlings look very much like wacky dinosaurs—though as the canopies fill out your view naturally diminishes.
More ubiquitous and much more conspicuous than the stately great blue is the American crow. Crows make reliable year-round entertainment given their intelligence, visibility, and thorough exploitation of human-dominated landscapes, which they inject with inherent wildness courtesy of their raw calls and inky raggedness. It’s easy to block out those harsh caws as part of the continuous ambient racket of city and suburb, but if you strive to keep one ear tuned to crow chatter, you’re likely to be rewarded at some point with one of the more dramatic commonplace wildlife spectacles: mobbing.
Crows don’t take too kindly to the presence of a bird of prey, and raise a cacophony of yelling and scolding as they surround an unfortunate raptor, bringing it to bay in treetops and chasing it through the air in boisterous squadrons. If you hear a great communal crow ruckus, there’s a good chance there’s a hawk or owl in the vicinity, and if you track down the black-feathered horde you may well spot it—especially if you wait patiently for the mob to flush the raptor into harried flight. The most fever-pitched crow mobbing seems reserved for the great horned owl, Public Enemy No. 1 in the corvid sphere. (Because horned owls are mostly nocturnal and tend to stay cloistered away during the day, a crow mob is often the best way to actually see one of these "winged tigers," plenty common in town and city.)
Another cool crow tradition? Mass winter roosting. Crows will roost in the hundreds or thousands during the winter months for reasons not entirely understood, and many such aggregations are situated in urban areas. Come evening, you’ll see crows streaming overhead in a common direction, and if you follow you might find a whole fluttery mess of them gathered in trees or on rooftops. Very likely this is not their actual nighttime roost but a pre-roosting staging ground that they’ll gradually—often in small groups—depart from en route to communal sleeping quarters elsewhere.
Both crows’ raucous swarming of red-tailed hawks or horned owls and the winter sundown flights to thousands-strong roosts can go surprisingly unnoticed by citydwellers in their midst. The same goes for urban creeks and old trees tucked in the parkway boonies. But they’re there—ready and waiting for your attention, and your spirit of close-to-home adventure.
Written by Ethan Shaw for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.