beak to beak 45 -2

As I eagerly await the arrival of December each year, visions of decorated trees dance through my head. No, I am not talking about Christmas. I am impatiently awaiting the arrival of wintering birds at Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands, especially the Great Blue Herons.

Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands, ( Viera Wetlands), is a 200 acre wetland comprised of 4 cells and a central lake which is surrounded by a drivable dirt road. The wetlands are located just 2.5 miles east of interstate I 95 and one exit south of Rockledge, Florida. From December through late April, nesting and wintering birds visit the wetlands to engage in mating and raising of their young.

Great Blue Heron Courtship Stages

The Great Blue Herons are one of the first birds to decorate the trees of Viera Wetlands.  If you have never photographed the various stages of the Great Blue Heron courtship, allow me to share with you some of the wonderful photographic opportunities available at Viera.

Nesting Sites

The courtship begins as the males stake claims to prime palm tree tops in hopes of attracting females.

Male on Nest blog-

Attracting Females

Once at the nest, the male will begin a stretch display to attract females.

the stretch-

In ‘Heron Love” it appears the male is the one to play hard to get. Responding to the male stretch, a female heron arrives at the nest and may be initially rebuffed by the male. During this phase of courtship, herons can be photographed chasing each other around the nest. This is also a perfect time to capture the herons fighting in the air. This is not the time to learn your camera settings with only seconds to capture the action. 

Great Blue Heron Fight

Love at Last

After several days, the male begins to accept the female and love is in the air. They begin to engage in bill clapping which I call “Heron Kissing.” Yes, I know, I am straying from the scientific names but this is after all a “Heron Love Story.” This part of the courtship is wonderful to photograph. Due to the very fast movement of the Herons during this phase, very fast shutter speeds are essential for creating sharp images.

Great Blue Heron Courtship 84

Even after bill clapping begins, the acceptance of the female by the male is not finalized until he brings her twigs for the nest.

Great Blue Heron twig 8

The male now begins to gather nesting material for many days and can be frequently seen flying back and forth to the nest.  This is a great time to practice flight shots as the heron will leave and come back to the same spot over and over again during the day.

Heading out
single heron in flight-

Returning to the nest
single heron in flight 2-2

The female will inspect the nesting material and begin to assimilate it into the nest.

great blue heron twig exchange 19-

great blue heron twig exchange 109-

Heron Mating

Once nest building is substantially complete, the actual mating begins. At this stage, it is common to observe a male fly into the nest with nesting material and mate with the female in a matter of a minute or less. As a photographer, anticipating this action is key to capturing the mating of the herons.

Great Blue Herons Mating

The stages of Great Blue Heron courtship create amazing photographic opportunities. However, I find the geometric heart shapes created during the beak to beak courtship produce my favorite images. If you enjoy bird photography, don’t miss an opportunity to visit Viera Wetlands to photograph the Great Blue Heron courtship.

Be sure to visit the gallery section of my nature website at for additional images of the Great Blue Herons. See you at Viera!

Great Blue Heron Couple 5

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