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Every week there are new marvels to look for in the outdoors, and Discover Nature highlights these attractions. The Missouri Department of Conservation’s Josh Hartwig brings us the stories of river otters, luna moths, red buds, and other actors as they take center stage in nature’s theater.You can hear Discover Nature, Mondays at 7:42 a.m. and 5:18 p.m.

Discover Nature: Great Blue Heron

Missouri Department of Conservation

July 12 - July 18

Discover nature and learn about a bird that was likely one of the earliest inhabitants of our continent. According to fossil records, the great blue heron inhabited our continent around the same time as mammoths and saber-toothed cats.

Found in Missouri’s wetland areas, this elegant bird will stand tall at attention, creating no ripple. He waits for his prey to approach, then spears it with his bill before flipping it into the air and swallowing it whole. He then resumes his post, preferring to fish and live alone.

The great blue heron is the largest of the North American herons, reaching a height of 4 feet and a wingspan of close to 7 feet across. They fly through the air with their necks folded into an S-shape, flapping their wings in long, lazy, rhythmic beats.

At this time of year, the young bird’s feathers and wing muscles are sufficiently developed for flight and its parents are intent on raising their chicks to a fully grown state.

They gather after wintering to nest. Extravagant rituals exist between courting herons. They preen, dance, flash elegant feather plumes, and touch necks and beaks. When a male chooses a female he offers her a twig as the first of many gifts she will use to construct her nest.

After breeding and raising their young, the birds will part ways to spend their winters alone and meet back again the following spring.

To keep track of current natural events like when great blue herons will be raising their young, you can get your own Natural Events Calendar from the Missouri Department of Conservation.

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