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Great Blue Heron with juvenile, sunning behaviour

Sitting on it’s nest in the 90 degree heat this adult Great Blue Heron would stretch out it’s wings, almost forming a semi circle around the juvenile, as if to shield it from the heat. It was lovely interaction between the adult and young, and I assumed that was the behaviour I was witnessing as it certainly looked that way. I’ve seen other birds cooling off but never this species. However, a bit of research told me this was actually the adult sunning itself (theories are to help cool down as I said or use the heat of the sun to kill off parasites in the feathers) rather than doing this as a maternal instinct – although clearly the juvenile was enjoying the benefits!

GBH with juvenile, D300 with 200-400 VR

All the images I’ve seen of this sunning behaviour have shown the heron facing the sun with wings tilted up towards the sky, whereas this particular one had the sun almost to it’s back, so you can see where my assumption of protecting the juvenile came in. But either way the symmetry in the wings of the adult with the young tucked away underneath just looked fantastic.

Great Blue Heron, D300 with 200-400 VR

One of my favourite shots is the one below. Simply for the fact you have both adult and young on the nest and although you can’t see the adult, the juvenile is framed within it’s wings. This not only gives a lovely look at the detail on the usually hidden underside of these birds wings (we all know how herons love to just sit for hours, wings folded up like a cape!), but also a wonderful sense of the bond between the birds.

Juvenile Great Blue Heron with wings of adult

I’ve always had a soft spot for herons. I guess living in London near big parks they are one of the easiest and largest of the UKs big birds to photograph, but it was a great to see them in a different settings and acting in a way I certainly hadn’t seen before. So although I was limited in where I could shoot from, I watched this behaviour for a good 45 minutes or so. Every time the sun would come out from behind clouds the juvenile would shuffle a little to get it’s body out of any of that direct mid afternoon Florida sunlight before settling down again. It really was a lovely moment to witness.

About the author

Richard Peters is a Surrey based professional wildlife photographer, Nikon Ambassador, and one of the few British photographers to receive the accolade of European Wildlife Photographer of the Year. He is known for a style that often favours dramatic use of light, runs wildlife photography workshops and, from camera clubs to big industry events, holds talks about his work.

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