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Great Blue Heron Colony A Rarity In Westchester

The Great Blue Heron may be the most common North American heron, but it is rare in Westchester. Video Credit: Brian Donnelly
Photo Credit: Brian Donnelly

BEDFORD, N.Y. -- A colony of great blue heron has made Bedford its home for the season in a remote, yet visible wooded area that Naturalist Tait Johansson says is the only place in all of Westchester that you will find the large birds.

There are about 20 blue herons nests at a rookery - or colony of breeding animals - on Route 121 just past the intersection with Route 137.

Some of the birds could still be seen this week building nests high up in the barren trees, flanked by a swampy surface with dead trees. The tall bird with an S-shaped neck and long legs usually settles near water or in a marsh and preys on fish, frogs, mice and even other birds.

"This rookery started two years ago," said Johansson, who works at the Bedford Audobon Society in Katonah. "It's something interesting. A lot of people have called here asking about it."

The Katonah resident and lifelong bird admirer said not all of them have migrated back north to the Bedford rookery. He said the birds you see now are adults, who will breed and then incubate their eggs in the nest for about a month - he added that they're not as interesting to observe while incubating since they mostly stay in the nest.

After incubation, the baby birds stay in the nest for about 80 days. Both parent and child then roam around the area until the cold weather forces them south. Smaller birds incubate for about two weeks, and stay in the nest for another two weeks, Johansson said.

"Their colonies shift but they'll come back to the same area," he said, adding that the colony seems to have grown since last year. "It's pretty noticeable."

While the great blue heron is the most common and largest North America heron - measuring anywhere between 3.2 to 4.5 feet tall with a wingspan of 5.5 to 6.6 feet - Johansson said they aren't common in Westchester.

"There aren't too many breeding colonies in our area," he said. "Farther north there seem to be more." The great blue heron is also territorial and Johansson advises anyone who goes to take a look to not get too close.

An employee at Blind Charlie's in nearby Pound Ridge said he has a great blue heron stalking the koi pond at his home. He bought a fake blue heron to scare it away, but the hungry bird grew wise to the ploy and returned.