Standing motionless as the sphinx, with his neck drawn in until his crested head rests between his angular shoulders, the big, long-legged, bluish-gray heron depends upon his stillness and protective colouring to escape the notice of his prey, and of his human foes (for he has no others). In spite of his size—and he stands four feet high without stockings—it takes the sharpest eyes to detect him as he waits in some shallow pool among the sedges along the creek or river side, silently, solemnly, hour after hour, for a little fish, frog, lizard, snake, or some large insect to come within striking distance. With a sudden stroke of his long, strong, sharp bill, he either snaps up his victim, or runs it through. A fish will be tossed in the air before being swallowed, head downward, that the fins may not scratch his very long, slender throat. When you are eating ice cream, don’t you wish your throat were as long as this heron’s?
A gunner, who wantonly shoots at any living target, will usually try to excuse himself for striking down this stately, picturesque bird into a useless mass of flesh and feathers, by saying that herons help themselves to too many fish. (He forgets about all the mice and reptiles they destroy.) But perhaps birds, as well as men, are entitled to a fair share of the good things of the Creator. Some people would prefer the sight of this majestic bird to the small, worthless fish he eats. What do you think about protecting him by law? Any one may shoot him now. The broad side of a barn would be about as good a test of a marksman’s skill.
The evil that birds do surely lives after them; the good they do for us is far too little appreciated. Almost the last snowy heron and the last egret of Southern swamps have yielded their bodies to the knife of the plume hunter, who cuts out the exquisite decorations these birds wear during the nesting season. Inasmuch as all the heron babies depend upon their parents through an unusually long, helpless infancy, the little orphans are left to die by starvation. For what end is the slaughter of the innocents? Merely that the unthinking heads of vain women may be decked out with aigrettes! Don’t blame the poor hunters too much when the plumes are worth their weight in gold.
Birds Every Child Should Know by Neltje Blanchan
Author of “Bird Neighbours,” “Birds that Hunt and Are Hunted,”
“Nature’s Garden,” and “How to Attract the Birds.”
NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP
1907 by Doubleday, Page & Company
Title Great Blue Heron
Alternative Title Ardea herodias
Creator Butcher, Bill
Description Great blue heron wading in water at E.B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.
Subject Birds, Wading birds, Wildlife refuges
Publisher U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Source Northeast Region Library
Date created 2010-08-26