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Meet The Baby Great Blue Herons Squawking Into The World At Bolsa Chica Wetlands

Two juvenile great blue herons and one adult heron sit next to each other in a palm tree in profile, their long, pointy beaks facing to the right.
Two young great blue herons with their parent at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.
(Courtesy: Theera Vasabhuti
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I've been watching and waiting for a month now for a particular set of springtime babies to come into the world at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach — and they've arrived! Baby great blue herons, with their scraggly black mohawks and downy gray butt feathers.

Some eight to 10 nests sit high up in a group of palm trees — likely planted in the early 1900s when this area was a gun club — on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

A large great blue heron with its wings spread and mouth open looking toward the camera. It has what looks like a scraggly mohawk on its head and yellow eyes.
Some people describe great blue heron babies as little pterodactyls.
(Courtesy: Rebecca May

The basics on great blue herons

Great blue herons are the largest herons in North America, explained Jeannette Bush, animal monitoring coordinator at the nonprofit Bolsa Chica Conservancy. A full-grown great blue heron stands about 4 feet tall. They are highly adaptable and can be found all over the country.

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In a recent outing, we spot two squawking babies with our binoculars, likely hatched three to four weeks ago, Bush said. And they're big. They look like they're well on their way to reaching that height.

Bush spotted the start of flight feathers on one of the chicks, a sign they'd soon be ready to try out their wings.

Their parents hover in the palm trees, occasionally taking off in elegant flight to look for food. Their long, powerful beaks can snap up — or spear — fish, stingrays, insects, small mammals, lizards — even small alligators.

The baby great blue herons get the leftovers — regurgitated from their mama and papa's bellies.

Two large baby birds look up at their parent who stands above them. They're all in a palm tree.
"Feed me!"
(Courtesy Rebecca May)

How can I see them?

Bush said great blue herons tend to stay in the nest for about a month — longer than most birds. So there's still time to see them.

"These guys will even come back to the nest after they're able to fly to beg for food still," she said laughing.

If you go

The Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve is adjacent to Bolsa Chica State Beach in Huntington Beach. The great blue heron nesting area is reachable by trail — a 10- to 20-minute walk — from the reserve's parking lot on Warner Avenue and from its parking lot on the Pacific Coast Highway across from the state beach vehicle entrance.

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A map shows the location of the Bolsa Chica Ecological Preserve, the Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve and the Laguna Laurel Ecological Reserve along the Southern California coast.
(Courtesy: California Department of Fish and Wildlife)
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