British wildlife recordings
Ardea cinerea : Grey Heron - Ardeidae
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Brownsea Island, Dorset: OS Grid Reference(402500,88500)
Grey Heron, Ardea cinerea
Calls from a colony of grey heron recorded at Brownsea Island, Dorset. Britain’s commonest and instantly recognisable heron is a colonial nester, preferring the company of their own kind as they nest cheek by jowl in the tops of tall trees found often in a river or lakeside location. Many herons return to the same locations year after year, some of which have been in use for centuries. Both male and female return to the site early in the year, but it is the male that stakes out its favourite tree by uttering far-carrying advertising calls with its head characteristically raised and bill pointing skywards. Away from the nest, a harsh cough-like flight-call is often heard, but it is at the colony that both male and female become far more vocal, uttering a range of harsh croaking noises. Non-vocal sounds include bill-snapping and rattling, but it is not until the single chicks reach an appreciable size that the cacophony in the colony reaches a crescendo. The huge chicks have such insatiable appetites that they feel compelled to call incessantly for their parents’ attention to ensure a ready supply of anything from fish to frogs and small mammals to snails. This large patient bird is found across the British Isles in lowland areas near wetlands, lakes, rivers and estuaries. An increasingly common sight in towns, herons are quite happy to pluck unsuspecting ornamental fish from garden ponds, a much smaller and easier hunting ground! They are known to stand perfectly still for long periods of time, waiting for the right moment to strike their long yellow bills into the water. A rather silent bird, the heron does produce a harsh ‘fraank’ or ‘kaark’ call, usually during flight. During the breeding season, colonies form in high treetops, only occasionally being found in reedbeds or on cliff ledges.