Alert the birdie police. The Great Blue Herons are stealing sticks at the Viera Wetlands!
Last Saturday morning at the wetlands started off with a gorgeous sunrise and great silhouettes. Then it just kept getting better and better. The nesting Great Blue Herons are such fun to watch. One of the nests had about a month-old chick, another nest had two week-or-so-old chicks, and some of the herons are still nesting. All throughout the morning, a pair of birds was stealing sticks from an abandoned nest in order to make their own nest. I think it was the parents that were doing the sunrise piggy-back riding who were building the new nest. Every five minutes or so, one of them would swoop in to the abandoned nest, pick a stick and fly off with it.
The new nest was behind us, so the birds gave us great opportunities as they flew towards us with sticks in their mouths. Like clockwork, they took sticks and flew off. Sometimes they took big sticks, sometimes small sticks. They often stood there for several minutes, carefully selecting the next stick to steal. Nest-making is such an intricate and exact process. The birds weave the sticks together to make a strong enclosure that will hold up in Florida’s winds.
Except there was just one problem. The nest wasn’t abandoned! After a while, the nest’s owner showed up and looked annoyed. Somebody was stealing sticks from his nest! He clearly didn’t have a mate yet. He stood on his nest and gave us multiple courtship displays, throwing his head up and reaching as high as he could. I’ve heard that this type of shot is just what Audubon is looking for on its magazine covers, right, Michael? :)
It’s hard to attract a mate when you can’t keep sticks in your nest! This nest owner flew off, and the stick-stealers returned to grab more branches. It was hilarious. They repeated this for several hours that morning. Sometimes the heron was agile enough to steal two sticks at once!
When the nest owner returned, he noticed that sticks were out of place and tried to poke them back into his nest. This long tall branch was particularly hard to place. He spent about five minutes trying to get it into a perfect position. Poor guy. It must be hard to have your nest un-built from underneath you!
On the top of an adjacent palm tree, the nest with two small chicks was rather quiet. Mom lay patiently sleeping for at least two hours after sunrise. Finally the young ones woke up and demanded breakfast. She sat up and we got our first glimpses of her babies. Great Blue Herons regurgitate food for their chicks during their first days of life. But when she doesn’t do it quickly enough, they take matters into their own beaks, and try to eat whatever they can find. In this case, it was a piece of fish that was almost as big as they were! Sometimes still photography just doesn’t tell the story and you have to put the camera on video mode…
The little ones’ cousin, Junior, is about a month old. He’s got quite the hairdo as his feathers grow in! He woke up and started begging his mom for breakfast, with that repetitive little nagging sound that must drive his mom crazy. Mom didn’t have any food ready for him just yet, and he sat there poking at her mouth, demanding that she cough something up for him. I loved it when he threw up his wings and danced while he begged.
With nest construction still underway, Great Blue Heron is going to be good at Viera Wetlands for another month or two. The Great Blue Herons aren’t the only ones nesting, either. The Double-crested Cormorants also seem to be in the breeding mood. Last time I was at Viera, I photographed a cormorant with nesting material. On this visit, several cormorants posed right in front of me on a dead palm. They had the bright blue eye that is the start of their breeding plumage, but they didn’t have the double crests or the blue color in their mouths. They seemed to be staking out territory. At one point, a cormorant flew very close to a heron nest to annoy the heron…
It was one of those great photography mornings when there was so much going on, sometimes it was hard to know where to point the camera! The American White Pelicans were flying overhead. Thousands of Tree Swallows swarmed in the wetlands. The Caracara flew by with nesting material. A Northern Harrier made an appearance but didn’t want to fly close. Neither did the Bald Eagle. Caspian Terns went fishing in the lake in front of us. Even the Black Vulture looked nice as he posed on a palm tree. It was such a good morning!!
My last shot is of a nesting pair of Anhingas that posed nicely for us. I love the colors of the Anhinga during breeding season. Look at those bright blue eye rings! That nest is going to be great when the chicks hatch. I can’t wait to go back!
Want to learn more about nature photography at Viera Wetlands?
Check out my Viera Wetlands page with more information about the location, map, website, photography tips, etc. It is archived by date so you can see my images from previous visits. Maybe you'll be inspired for your own trip!
Planning a trip to Florida? Don't miss my Central Florida Bird Photography Locations reference guide!