Birdwatch: Non-breeding Little Blue Heron spotted

Down in Louisiana, the little blue heron is a common sight in the bayous.

In March, when Eric and I toured that state’s fascinating Atchafalaya Swamp as dawn’s early light seeped through the bayou’s backwaters, we saw hundreds of them.

At first they were barely visible, unlike their cousins, the bright white snowy egrets which resembled explosions of white powder puffs while roosting in the trees. But as the daylight strengthened, what looked like shadowy blurs turned out to be non-breeding little blue herons.

Unlike our stately great blue heron with which most of us are familiar, the little blue is, well, littler. It’s size is listed in both the National Geographic Society’s Birds of North America, the Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds East of the Rockies, and Earl Godfrey’s The Birds of Canada as being 24 inches or 60 cm. (The great blue is 46 inches, or 117 cm.)

Because we had recently seen this species, it was with great interest that I read The Ottawa Citizen’s Saturday bird column by Elizabeth LeGeyt. Here’s what she wrote:

“The weather that contributed to the amazing influx of migrating birds resulted in some unusual birds being reported. A blue-gray gnatcatcher in Britannia, a little blue heron flying south over Shirley’s Bay and an orchard oriole in Crystal Beach.”

I noted the paragraph particularly because of the little blue heron, happy to note that whereas I would need to check my bird books to refresh my memory on what the orchard oriole and blue-gray gnatcatcher look like, that hurray, I actually know first-hand what the little blue heron is like, thanks to the Louisiana visit.

After morning coffee I went out into the garden for a day of weeding and planting vegetable seeds.

At dusk, I was taking my last walkaround, a final reward I permit myself after all the day’s work is done. And at this time of year, I’m always drawn to our pond as it is teeming with life. Not only are the frogs chirping their mating songs, but there are chubby tadpoles to see, budding iris, and the amazing water bugs.

When my footsteps approached our bridge, I heard a wild scuffling sound coming from beneath it. What was this, I wondered? The noise was frantic and then, with a burst of energy, a little blue heron flapped its way into the dwindling light, right beneath my feet. Thrilled, I watched its zig-zag, frightened flight as it flew up our little spring-fed brook.

It paused on a low, fallen poplar that still dangles over the water, above the splash of yellow marsh marigolds.

Dark slate blue body. Head and neck a chestnut-to-purple-brown colour. Legs a dark olive-yellow colour. Yes! A little blue heron right here on the Steele Line..

According to Godfrey’s book, these herons’ status in Canada is listed as “Rare non-breeding spring, summer and autumn wanderer to eastern Canada. Recorded in Moisie Bay in Québec, August 1928.)”

As for their breeding range, the book tells us, “Breeds in the southern Atlantic and Gulf states, north along the coast to Massachusetts (casually), and south through Central America to Peru and Uruguay. Wanders northward occasionally to southeastern Canada.”

What a sighting this was. Heads up to birdwatchers in the Pontiac. Let me know if you spot this rare visitor, too, and don’t be shy to report your sightings. Also, keep the Pontiac’s visibility up, and report your bird sightings to LeGeyt in The Ottawa Citizen. After all, with the click of your computer keyboard, you can send your sightings to me and to her simultaneously. Add her e-mail address, to your list.


Special note: did you hear all the news last week from Environment Canada about the use of pesticides? Health Canada and other departments and organizations seemingly are just waking up. They are advising Canadians not to use pesticides (or herbicides) as these pollutants seep into our groundwater and endanger our children’s (and our) health.

This seemingly earth-shattering revelation ought not to be such “news.” But here in Pontiac, our rural agricultural economy sees farmers using tons of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides to produce our food.

Please: we are all in this together and this comment is NOT intended as farmer-bashing. After all, I buy commercially grown foods and cannot afford to purchase organic foods. So how are we to switch to an organic, chemical-free food industry? Does organic farming work on a large-scale operation? (I have heard it does not, but am uninformed about this point.)

It is one thing to grow organically as we do, in our own small vegetable plot. It is one thing for us to have a pesticide free lawn.

How are we going to manage this issue of pesticides and herbicides at the larger level?


Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer living north of Quyon. Contact her at