heron defined in 1930 yearheron - Heron;
heron - Crest bluish black; upper parts slate-grey; forehead, cheeks, and neck white, the latter streaked with bluish grey and terminating in long white feathers; under parts greyish white; bill yellow. Length, thirty-six inches.
The heron is sometimes spoken of as our largest wild bird. It is not meant that he is really larger than the golden eagle, or wild swan, or grey lag goose, but only that he is the biggest of the comparatively common birds. The heron has two very different aspects - when in repose, or standing, and when on the wing. On the ground, or, as we more often see him, standing knee-deep in the water, watching the surface, he presents a sorry appearance - a bird lean and ungraceful in figure, white and ghostly grey in colour, awkward in his motions when he moves. No sooner does he open his wings than this mean aspect vanishes, and he is transfigured. At first the flight appears heavy on account of the slow, measured beats of the broad, rounded vans; but as he rises higher, and soars away to a distance, it strikes the beholder as wonderfully free and powerful. The appearance of the bird is then majestic, and its flight more beautiful than that of any other large wading bird with which I am acquainted - ibis, wood-ibis, stork, flamingo, or spoonbill. When pursued by a falcon the heron is capable of rising vertically to a vast height, while the hawk rushes after in a zigzag course, striving to rise above his quarry so as to strike. This aerial contest of hawk and heron forms a very fascinating spectacle, and formerly, when falcons were trained for this sport, the heron was as much esteemed as the pheasant - which has been called the ' sacred bird ' - is at the present day. With the decline of falconry the heron ceased to be protected by law, and diminished greatly in numbers; but he is an historical bird, and there is a feeling, or sentiment, that has served to prevent his extermination. It is still considered a fine thing to have a heronry on a large estate; and so long as this feeling endures the bird will receive sufficient protection, although the existing heronries, when we come to count them, are not many.
The heron breeds in communities, and when the heronry is well-placed and safeguarded the birds return to it year after year. As a rule the nests are built on the tops of large trees in a sheltered part of the wood. The nest is a bulky, rudely built platform structure of sticks and weeds, lined with rushes, wool and other soft materials. Three or four eggs are laid, very pale dull green in colour. The young are fed in the nest five or six weeks before they fly. Two broods are reared in the season.
The heronry is a most interesting place to visit when the young birds are nearly old enough to fly, and are most hungry and vociferous, and stand erect on the nests or neighbouring branches, looking very strange and tall and conspicuous on the tree-tops. The nests are of various sizes, and have a very disordered appearance, some of them looking like huge bundles of sticks and weed-stalks flung anyhow into the trees. At this period the parent birds are extremely active, and if the colony be a large one, they are seen arriving singly, or in twos and threes, at intervals of a few minutes throughout the day. Each time a great blue bird with well-filled gullet is seen sweeping downwards the young birds in all the nests are thrown into a great state of excitement, and greet the food- bearer with a storm of extraordinary sounds. The cries are powerful and harsh, but vary greatly, and resemble grunts and squeals and prolonged screams, mingled with chatterings and strange quacking or barking notes. When the parent bird has settled on its own nest, and fed its young, the sounds die away; but when several birds arrive in quick succession the vocal tempest rages continuously among the trees, for every young bird appears to regard any old bird on arrival as its own parent bringing food to satisfy its raging hunger.
The cry of the adult is powerful and harsh, and not unlike the harsh alarm-cry of the peacock.
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