Great Blue Herons in a Tough Cape May Winter

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Cape May, NJ – While a majority of Great Blue Herons migrate to areas farther south of Cape May for the winter, many Great Blue Herons choose to winter right here in the Cape May peninsula.

In recent years, these overwintering birds have survived and even flourished. They have become a common site in the colder months and fun to watch as they probe the edges of creeks or marshes for fish and other small animals. They will even feed on small rodents.

However, this year the cold and snow seem to be taking their toll.  January 2014 was one of the coldest and snowiest on record in Cape May.

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The tough weather is making it more difficult for some birds to survive. The heron pictured here, although looking healthy, was docile and hardly moved when approached. Unusual behavior. It could be that the bird was starving and weak.

With ice covering ponds and even parts of the salt marshes, it has been hard for herons to find food. Local Cape May birders like Jim Dowdell have observed that there are fewer herons now than earlier in the winter. Those still here seem to be surviving.

Although it is gut-wrenching to see a heron lingering on the brink, it was heartening to see other, seemingly healthy birds flying over the salt marshes near the Parkway this week.

Since these herons have already made it through one of the toughest parts of the winter, if the temperatures stay above freezing and the birds can find food, they’ll likely make it to spring.

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About Paul Kerlinger

Paul Kerlinger, Ph.D. is a scientist, author and nationally known expert on bird migration. He's done extensive studies on hawks, Snowy Owls and neotropical song birds. Kerlinger is the former director of the Cape May Bird Observatory, His books include How Birds Migrate and Flight Strategies of Migrating Hawks. He's an ardent fly fisherman and organic vegetable gardener.