I eagerly await the arrival of December each year with visions of decorated trees dancing through my head. No, I am not talking about Christmas; I am impatiently awaiting the arrival of wintering birds at Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands. In particular, the opportunity to photograph the love story of 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. To learn more, check out: Viera Wetlands.

map showing location of Viera Wetlands

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 love story (courtship), allow me to share with you some wonderful opportunities to capture the Great Blue Heron courtship in Viera, Florida.

Heron Nesting Sites

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

Male Heron Attracting Female

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

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. In fact, this is also a perfect time to capture the herons fighting in the air.

This is not the time, however, to learn your camera settings with only seconds to capture the action. 

Heron 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 Great Blue Herons during this phase, very fast shutter speeds are essential for creating sharp images.

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

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

Heading out

Returning to the nest

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

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.

Conclusion:

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.

To view more images of the courtship, be sure to visit my stock library of great blue herons at Great Blue Heron Gallery.  See you at Viera!

 

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