INTRODUCTION

The Grey Heron is a member of the Heron family and is the tallest bird in England. It can be seen throughout England near lakes, slow-flowing rivers and estuaries. It can also be seen in damp fields near to water. It can easily be recognised by its long legs and neck which it often holds in a ‘S’ position when hunting for food. This heron can often be seen standing very still in water waiting to catch fish.

The Grey Heron is predominantly a grey bird with a white head, chest and belly. It has a crest of long, black wispy feathers and black feathers running down its long white throat. It has a long, pointed, yellow beak which can change to a deep orange colour.

The Grey Heron is a wading bird that makes long deliberate strides when wading in water. Sometimes it will stand up to its breast in water when looking for food. The Grey Heron mainly eats fish and sometimes it steals goldfish from garden ponds. When a Grey Heron flies, it curves it wings into a ‘M’ shape and trails its long legs behind its body.

YEAR 2 – Ages 6/7

The Grey Heron is a tall bird with long brown legs. It almost looks lanky. The Grey Heron is the tallest bird in England and can be seen all year round. It sometimes visits gardens to steal fish out of garden ponds!

The Grey Heron can be recognised by its long neck. Sometimes the neck looks like a long ‘S’ shape. The Grey Heron can also be recognised by its long pointed beak. The beak is a yellow colour and looks like a sharp dagger. Sometimes the beak changes into a deep orange colour.

The Grey Heron is about one hundred centimetres tall. It has a large body even though the head and the neck are longer than the body. The top and the sides of the body are a grey colour. The long neck is also a grey colour at the top and the sides. The underside of the neck is a white colour.

The Grey Heron has a long white head and a white belly. It has a black crest of long black feathers. The crest is a bunch of feathers on top of the head. The Grey Heron also has black feathers running down its white throat. It also has black feathers above each eye.

The Grey Heron has long yellow-orange legs. It can often be seen standing very still near water waiting to catch fish.

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YEAR 3 – Ages 7/8

The Grey Heron is a tall lanky-looking bird that can often be seen standing very still and quietly near water. Sometimes it visits gardens to steal goldfish or frogs from garden ponds.

The Grey Heron often wades through shallow water to look for prey. It also stands up to its breast in water to look for food. The Grey Heron doesn’t get cold in water because it has down feathers that keep its body warm. Down feathers are soft and fluffy feathers which are situated under the outer feathers. They trap warm air and this warm air keeps the Grey Heron protected from the cold.

The Grey Heron also has powder down feathers on its breast and rump. They are a yellowish colour and grow in patches and these feathers produce dust. The Grey Heron takes the dust from the feathers and scatters it on its wing feathers. The dust helps to waterproof the wing feathers so that the Grey Heron can still fly even if it is raining.

The Grey Heron also uses the dust from its powder down feathers to help clean away any dirt or slime. It scatters the dust on its body and then uses its claws to comb through the feathers. The dust also seems to suffocate any feather lice that may be hiding under its feathers.

The Grey Heron also moults its feathers to keep them in top condition. Moulting is a process whereby the Grey Heron sheds its old feathers to replace them for new ones. The Grey Heron moults its feathers around June till November.

YEAR 4 – Ages 8/9

The Grey Heron is a tall wading bird with a long neck and long legs. It can easily be recognised by its long ‘S’ shaped neck and its long yellow dagger-like beak. It is often seen on its own.

Grey Herons can often be seen near lakes, ponds, rivers and canals standing motionless in water looking for prey. They can also be seen on marshes, near reservoirs and estuaries. Estuaries are wide parts of rivers near to the sea. They sometimes even visit gardens to steal fish and frogs from garden ponds.

Sometimes Grey Herons can be seen standing in damp fields away from water. When a Grey Heron stands in a field, it isn’t easy to spot as it rests with its head sunk into its shoulders and stands very still and very quietly. If it is disturbed in the field, it is easier to spot because it stretches out its long neck before it flies away. Sometimes it makes a loud harsh croaking ‘kah-ark’ or ‘fraaanck’ call as it takes to the air.

When a Grey Heron flies, it flies with its head drawn back into its body with its long legs trailing behind. The legs and feet horizontally extend well beyond its tail feathers. The wings look large and rounded when the Grey Heron is in flight and the black outer feathers on the wings can easily be seen.

The Grey Heron beats its wings very slowly in flight and as it flies, it curves its wings into a ‘M’ shape. It has a wingspan of nearly two metres. Some Grey Herons migrate to France, Holland or Spain in winter to spend time in warmer weather.

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YEAR 5 – Ages 9/10

The Grey Heron is a tall wading bird with a long neck and long legs. When a Grey Heron flies, it curves its wings into a ‘M’ shape and when it hunts for food in water, it curves its long neck into a ‘S’ shape.

The Grey Heron makes long deliberate strides when it wades through shallow water looking for prey. When it has found a suitable spot to hunt in, it can stand very still for a long time not making a sound. If it sees prey, it moves very slowly towards it so not to be detected and then very quickly stabs it with its beak. The Grey Heron uses patience, stealth and speed to catch its prey.

The Grey Heron can stab a fish several times before it eats it and then it usually swallows the fish head first and whole. It does this so that the spines or fins of the fish don’t get stuck in its throat. If a Grey Heron catches a large fish, it takes it on land and breaks it into small pieces with its beak and then eats it. Grey Herons like to eat fish such as roach, perch, sticklebacks and goldfish taken from garden ponds. If a Grey Heron lives near the coast, it will eat eels and crabs too.

Grey Herons usually hunt for fish in water, but sometimes they hunt close to water to find frogs or water voles. Grey Herons may hunt for prey in damp fields where they can find mice, rats, insects and even small birds and small rabbits. After the Grey Heron has caught its prey, it likes to find a quiet spot near water to enjoy its meal.

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YEAR 6 – Ages 10/11

During the mating season the beak of the male Grey Heron changes from a yellow colour to a deep orange colour. The mating season is around February and flocks of Grey Herons can be seen on dancing grounds performing courtship dances.

When a female Grey Heron approaches a male, he starts to dance for her. He stretches his neck up to the sky and then bends it backwards until his head touches his back. While doing this the male keeps his beak pointing upwards all the time. If a male and female Grey Heron pair up for mating, they run and hop towards each other with their wings open. Then they change direction and run and hop towards each other again while snapping their beaks at each other.

Grey Herons like to build their nests high up in trees in woodland which is very close to water. Nests are often built close to other nests which creates a ‘loose’ nesting colony called a ‘heronry’. Some heronries may have up to a hundred nests. Both the male and the female Grey Heron like to build a nest together. The nest is usually quite shallow, bulky and saucer-shaped and is made out of small branches and twigs. It is lined with fresh grass and bracken. The female Grey Heron lays four to five greenish blue eggs around the end of March. Both the female and the male Heron incubate the eggs for approximately twenty-six days.

When the chicks hatch out, they are covered in long blackish-brown down feathers. The chicks are fed on regurgitated fish. After about twenty to thirty days, the chicks leave the nest and start to climb up and down branches. When they are approximately fifty days old, they get their first set of feathers necessary for flight and this is when they usually leave the heronry to find homes of their own.

Eventually when the young reach their second or third year, they too make have chicks of their own and so the cycle of life begins again.