Home Sweet Sycamore

 A pair of Great Blue Herons at Long Branch Farm & Trails
Photo by Mary Jo McClain

By Tess Renusch

The great blue herons have returned to Long Branch Farm & Trails, and so the nesting season has begun! Like many picky homebuyers, Great Blue Herons can be particular when it comes to choosing a nesting spot, so what makes Long Branch an ideal choice?

A friendly neighborhood is at the top of a heron’s list. Though solitary birds throughout the year, herons join together in rookeries, a collection of nests, for breeding season. With their large stature, these herons depend less on hiding from predators than they do on strength in numbers. Colonies can even be as large as 550 nests! The rookery in the outstretched limbs of Long Branch’s sycamore has recently grown to hold four nests in past years, a sign that it might be an up-and-coming new neighborhood.

A pair of Great Blue Herons in their nest at Long Branch Farm & Trails
Photo by Mary Jo McClain

The herons’ sycamore home overhangs O’Bannon Creek, a beautiful waterfront view that serves an even more important purpose: this creek is also their favorite grocery store! The adults will take turns hunting once their eggs have been laid, standing in the shallow pools, their eyes focusing downward into the water until…Snap!  They lunge downward and come up victorious with a fish. With young that often get four meals a day and maybe even some nighttime snacks, this nearby food source is vital.

This prime location also has an added benefit: the nests are already built! Like many humans, herons typically prefer a “move-in-ready home” and will add their own repairs and additions to the nest throughout the breeding season by wedging sticks into the gaps for added strength.

The Great Blue Heron rookery, complete with 5 pairs of herons, at Long Branch
Photo by Mary Jo McClain

Our rookery of nests beckons the herons back each year, and it’s our job to ensure their ‘neighborhood’ remains inviting. Giving nesting herons plenty of space and quiet is an important part of being a good heron neighbor. This season, you may see parts of Long Branch Farm’s trails roped off to allow a comfortable distance for their nesting and our watching; as you pass quietly by the rookery, take a moment to enjoy the beautiful heron ‘neighborhood’ that our site holds.