Great Blue Herons – How Can you Tell them Apart?

© Babsje (

Great Blue Heron’s erect back feathers stand on edge as a form of territorial dialogue – babsjeheron

“But the Herons are all the same!” exclaimed my friend in an exasperated tone.

I replied to him, “Are all Retrievers the same? All Irish Wolfhounds?”

…Might as well face it, I’m addicted to…Herons. I can talk your ear off about Great Blue Herons, and that’s what I was doing with an old friend many years ago when he suddenly blurted out that all Herons are the same. He eventually came around and acknowledged that he could tell individual dogs apart and conceded that I could probably do the same with Great Blue Herons.

Until we have facial recognition software or AI for birds, photographers can rely on several clues to help identify individual birds. Unique behaviors, specific territories, distinguishing features, scars, and more. I’m working on the facial recognition thing, but in the meantime I do rely on all of those cues, especially physical traits.

Readers of my blog may recall the gorgeous Heron with a broken leg I wrote about earlier. The adult Great Blue in the top photo is a another good example: he has a badly broken toe that has healed at a strange angle, which you can see in the insert of this next photo.

Great Blue Heron soaring with broken toe (inset) - babsjeheron © 2021 Babsje (

Great Blue Heron soaring with broken toe (inset) – babsjeheron

Those two Great Blues have been lucky to survive and thrive despite their broken bones. That broken leg could have meant a slow death for her. Unlike the Herons, I have had excellent medical care for my own recent break:

x-ray of broken heel © 2021 Babsje (

My Badly Broken Heel – babsjeheron

But enough about me, back to the alpha male Heron.

“To sit and wait is as important as to move” could be a universal mantra for nature photographers, one I was actively practicing Friday from a secluded hide in the cove as the Great Blue Heron sunned herself on the half-submerged logs.

Unexpectedly, however, after half an hour of lazing about, she darted across the narrow channel and launched herself skyward to the west in a flurry of feathers and sqwaks.

Just as she was aloft, an alpha male in hot pursuit swooped down from the east to claim his territory in the cove. I eagerly panned the camera from my hiding place, trying without success to capture the fray, trying and failing to get both birds in a single frame.

The female vanquished from his turf, the male stood on the shore where he had landed – not ten feet away from me – and gazed after her disappearing form.

Only after a few minutes had passed did he turn around, and only then did he see me right there.

The tension was palpable. He stood stock still for a moment, sizing up the human interloper floating in his turf, and then started to erect his back feathers in a territorial display as if to tell me the cove is his.

© 2017 Babsje (

Great Blue Heron on the March – babsjeheron

I have watched this sort of feather display before, but it was always aimed at another Heron. This time, though, it was unmistakably targeted at me.

It was a silent dialogue between Heron and human about who’s the alpha bird.

I let the Heron win.

How could I not?
Bald Eagle and avian PSA for bird lovers, not to derail my own post: Two Bald Eagles have died in my county, on my river from poisoning, an adult female Bald Eagle and an Eaglet – victims of unintentional rodenticide chemicals. If your home or property are visited by rodents, please ensure that any rodent poison used is not an SGAR type (which some professional exterminators still use). Any birds or mammals that eat the poisoned rodents will themselves be poisoned. Reports of poisoned creatures include Eagles, Coyote, Foxes and Bobcats. It is especially concerning for the Eagles, which have only been reintroduced here within the last four decades. There is also concern for the Great Blue Herons which also consume small mammals like Chipmunks.

This post is prompted by the Lens Artist ladies (Tina, Amy, Patti, and Leya) and Cee Neuner, all of whom encourage the community. This week, the Lens Artists focus on gorgeous photos with the theme of Feet and Shoes. What a fun topic! In addition to the Great Blue Heron’s broken toe, you have seen my own broken heel selfie. Feet can be fascinating.

From Patti Lens Artists Weekly Photo Challenge 161: Feet and Shoes .

From Tina Lens Artists Weekly Photo Challenge 161: Feet and Shoes .

From Amy Lens Artists Weekly Photo Challenge 161: Feet and Shoes .

From Leya Lens Artists Weekly Photo Challenge 161: Feet and Shoes .

Thanks to Cee for her Hunt for joy. I don’t know if this challenge is still on, but I really like the idea of searching for joy. The Herons bring joy.


Folks, now that some areas are opening back up, please consider supporting your local Arts communities – whether music, theater, crafts, visual arts venues, and others. All have been impacted over the past year and they need your love.

My brick & mortar presence in Massachusetts dates back to 2009 in several local venues/galleries.

2015 (May), 2016 (March and July), 2018 (May, June, July), 2019 (December), 2020 (January) several one-woman photography shows at TCAN – The Center for Arts Natick
2018 (September, October) one-woman photography show at Natick Town Hall
2013 thru now 2021 Five Crows Gallery in Natick
2009 one-woman photography show at a local Audubon Sanctuary

From December 4 through January 28, 2020, my Great Blue Heron photographs were once again on display on the walls of the lobby and theater in a free one-woman show at the Summer Street Gallery, of The Center for Arts in Natick.

Many of the photos in the exhibit were shown for the first time, and do not appear on the blog. As always, many of the photos were taken on the waterways of the Charles River watershed.

Thanks to Erica V and WordPress for the recent WPC: Place in the World. My favorite place is where the Herons are, of course it is. And the Herons? Their place is near the water, but also on the gallery walls and my blog. How else can I share them with you?

Thanks also to Ben H and WordPress for their WPC Challenge: Liquid. The Herons are drawn to water, as am I.

Remember: Walk softly and carry a long lens.™

May the Muse be with you.™

The Tao of Feathers™

© 2003-2021 Babsje. (

Great Blue Heron, Mute Swan, Kayaking, TCAN, Five Crows, Natick

Posted on August 17, 2021, in # Lens-Artists, ardea herodias, Bald eagle, Birds, Cee's Fun Foto Challenge, daily prompt, Heron, Nature, Photography, Wildlife Photography and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 36 Comments.

  1. Boy you sure broke your heel bone Babsje! Glad that it’s getting much better!
    A shame about those two eagles! That happens every day somewhere.

    • Hi Wayne. Thanks very much for the healing wishes. Yes it was a big deal fracture but I avoided surgery so I’m a little thrilled with progress. Hoping to be tripping the light fantastic down the road…without literally tripping over anything. And the Eagles – I know it’s the circle of life but still it hurts. Thanks for your kind comment. Best, Babsje

  2. Well Babsje, I’m guessing yours will be the only entry with heron toes LOL. Your own broken foot looks painful. Happy to hear you got good care and hope you’re fully mended by now. Thanks for the lovely nod and your continued support

    • Hi Tina. Glad to kee0 things lovely with Heron toes! Can’t have the same ol same ol for a Lens Artists challenge. Thanks for the well-wishes. I still have a ways to go with healing the heel – it takes at least a year but I walked half a mile a week ago. Baby steps for me – walking is my thing. I’ve walked the Boston Marathon twice (as a bandit, walkers can’t officially register). Marathon walking is in the rear view mirror now for me, sadly, but I’m grateful for how things have improved already. Baby steps. Thanks. Best. Babsje

      • I used to run and then walk the Cooper River Bridge run here in Charleston but those days are behind me too Babsje. But good for us for having done them then!

        • I agree, Tina. There are life stages for all of us aren’t there? I never was a runner – I don’t have the knees for it – and glad you could run that bridge. I did my first Boston Marathon on a lark at 54 and frankly could not have done a marathon at 34! Except canoe outing in my early 30s I didn’t even get on the water until in my 40s when kayaking took over my life lol. The variety of challenges we can take on as we are is awesome. Thanks again!

  3. So sorry about your heel, Babsje! Wishing you the speediest possible recovery.
    I really identified with this post. We always have catbirds in the yard, but their behaviors vary widely. For a couple of years, this very chatty, forward catbird was always here. It “commented” on everything I did, and followed me around. It was very musical, so I named it “Cat Stevens”. (No luck getting it to repeat the first bars of Morning Has Broken that I sang to it, though!) In recent years, catbirds still visit, but are often shy, hang out in the bushes, won’t imitate me…..just totally different personalities. And I do find that catbirds do not look the same, for sure!

    • Hi Julie – thanks very much for the healing thoughts. I appreciate them. I’m not quite ready to kick up my heels yet but it’s come a long way and I’m happy about that! Best, Babsje

    • Hi Julie. I hit send too soon on my reply just now. I love thr name Cat Stevens for your catbird. Very clever. And I loved that it followed you around. I’m very fond of Catbirds, too. Thanks again for your kind comment. Best, Babsje

  4. Dear Babsje,
    “to sit and wait is as important as to move” – there is no doubt about it 😉 What else is possible?
    Thanks for your post, interesting like always.
    Wishing you a happy rest of the week
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • Good morning. Thank you for appreciating the importance of patience, of waiting. What is the animal that cannot be still – the shark that must keep moving at all costs? I don’t know the right analogy to describe the state of being of a shark but it is not for me. Thank you for your kind comment. My best to the Fab Four of Cley! Babsje

  5. P.S.
    We hope your foot is okay again, well healed.

    • Thanks very much for your kind well-wishes. The heel is healing and improving each week. I’m pleased to be more mobile now than even a few months ago. It is another lesson in being patient. My best to the Fab Four of Cley. 😊 😊 😊 😊 Babsje

  6. Glad to hear you are healing! The photo looks as you really hurt. Patience – yes, we have to have it…and the animals even more. Terrible about the eagles, but such things still happen. Here too. We finally got a falcon pair in the nearest town last year, but someone…put poisened soves in their way. The couple died and so did their chicks. I was terribly angry and disappointed – again – of how some humans behave.

  7. Hope you are recoving well. It must be painful to go through… Take care.

    • Many thanks for your well-wishes. Amy. I don’t recommend a fractured heel for anyone. Very painful at the beginning but that abated thank goodness. Four months of no weight-bearing was a challenge and fortunately that bed-rest stage was over the winter!! 😊 Best, Babsje

  8. Thanks for the photo of your heel as well as the alpha heron. Now I know what laid you low. You are also helping to mend the broken world.

    • Gary that is such a generous compliment about healing the world. Thank you for saying that. I hope your own healing from your arm injury continues and that your Greenland-style paddle makes kayaking easier now. Best, Babsje

  9. Such patience, Babsje, and what an enchanting way of telling about the Herons. I was there in the hideout, with you 🙂
    I do hope your heel will mend well and quick. What eye, to spot the injured foot of a flying bird!
    I can’t stop thinking about these two happenings, and draw a parallel between them.

    Thank you for taking me with today 🙂

    • Hi Patricia. Many thanks for your thoughtful comments and for the well-wishes. I like how you felt that you had been visiting the Herons along with me in the secluded hide. If I’m not mistaken, you may be in Africa part of the year? Africa has one of the world’s most glorious Herons – the Goliath Heron. Have you ever seen one? Thanks again for visiting. Best, Babsje

  10. Yes, we’re in South Africa. We have a nature reserve nearby, with a great big lake and we visit as often as we can. The tranquility there is bliss.
    I’ll have a look around your blog and get a look at the Goliath Heron. I should have seen it 😉

  11. Oh I *love* blue herons! They are my favorite bird that we see each time we visit the lake. In July there was an extraordinary one who perched in the water across from our dock for most of the day. So gorgeous.

    • Hi Laura. I’m so glad you’re a fan of Great Blue Herons, too, and you’re fortunate to see them from your dock. Many thanks for your kind comment. Best, Babsje

  12. I always understood birds within a given species have individual feathering patterns and colors that allow them to be recognized by each other, not so much by us. It is surprising those two herons survived their broken bones. I guess nature found them to be important. When you broke your heel, that must’ve hurt. Nice that you were able to avoid surgery.

    The largest bald eagle sanctuary here in Colorado is the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. The arsenal is/was considered to be the most-polluted piece of land in the world from its days as a chemical weapons production site. A lot of local developers, in addition to the cities of Denver and Aurora, had their sights set on the land for development. Mind you, you cannot live there because of the level of pollution despite the significant clean-up. The eagles were spotted in the 1980s, when 20-25 nesting pairs were found living in the outlying, unpolluted sections of the arsenal grounds. I believe they have something like 100 nesting pairs now. Buffalo were reintroduced in the 1990s. Their numbers have grown too. With limited access, the arsenal has reverted to a prairie ecosystem.

    • Hi David

      Many thanks for your interesting comment!  You’re right that birds can recognize their species members by feather pattern and colors. It’s a little surprising there aren’t more cases of birds mating with different species, so that probably helps.

      And yes I was surprised that the GBH with the broken leg survived, that she was able to forage and fish at all but I observed and photographed her for at least 3 years after the fracture. I found this Veterinarian post out of South Carolina encouraging, x-ray and all

      And yes the broken heel hurt. I strongly do not recommend.

      Wow 100 nesting pairs of Bald Eagles? That is VERY impressive and I hope the pollution doesn’t eventually take its toll like DDT and other chemicals. I lived and worked in Denver for a few years in the early 80s and don’t recall anything about Bald Eagles there then. So thanks for the fascinating report. Best, Babsje

  13. Schitterend gefotografeerd

    • Thank you so very much for your lovely compliment, Marylou! (Is your name Marylou? I noticed it on the photos on your fascinating blog.) Best, Babsje

  14. Hi Babsje,
    Thank you so much for supporting my Cover Reveal Giveaway 🙂
    Please will you drop me a line so that I know where to email you the eBook? My email address is visible on my blog under About Pat / Contact.
    Also, do let e know if you prefer MOBI / EPUB or PDF file.
    Thank you so much.
    Kind Regards,
    Patricia Furstenberg

  15. Very wise, Babsje. Let the heron win! I like that you respect their territory. I’m glad your foot is healing, too.

    • Many thanks Patti. I was just the interloper in the Herons’ world. It was a privilege to watch that encounter unfold. Thanks for the well-wishes. Best, Babsje

  16. Thanks for the info! I’m still learning how to tell males and females apart in some species.

    • Glad you liked this one. The gender difference thing is very difficult in some birds. Great Blue Herons for example.- they say you can tell because one gender is larger than the other…but unless you can observe a pair together it’s really hard to tell just by one bird alone. Thanks for your great comment. Best, Babsje

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