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School Watch

Grey Heron

Grey Heron: Ardea cinerea - Latin name - Corr réisc - Irish name
Nobody can mistake the heron or mix it up with any other bird. It is the largest European heron. In Ireland it is also known as the long-necked heron and in Scotland it is simply known as "long neck". The collective name for herons is a Siege of Herons.

The Grey Heron is the curse of fish farmers and koi-carp enthusiasts. Herons regularly feed on fish and can be seen standing patiently in a river or canal waiting for a fish to come into striking range and then it is stabbed with its dagger like beak. There is an old country belief that a heron's foot exuded a scent that lured fish to within striking distance.

The numbers of herons have increased throughout the country over the last number of years. This is due to the improved quality of water in our river systems and also the increased numbers of fish ponds in back gardens. herons like to feed in shallow water and apart from fish, they will also take frogs and small mammals. Herons are no longer as shy as they once were and it is possible to get quite close to them. A good example of this is at feeding time in Dublin Zoo. The herons have learned when the penguins are fed at the Zoo and can be seen in the trees just above teh penguin pen. When the penguins are fed, the herons swoop down and grab what they can get. Here they seem to have lost almost all their fear of man.

Although herons feed in water, they nest high in trees. The breeding colony is known as a heronry. A large number of birds can nest very close together in the treetops. Good examples can be seen in St. Anne's Park in Dublin and also on Inchydoney island in West Cork. An unusual aspect of the herenory on Inchydoney is the number of Little Egrets nesting among the herons and this year, Cattle Egrets have been spotted there also and are believed to be breeding there also. It is thought that the egrets have been moving further north due to global warming, but whereas the Little Egrets have been in the West Cork area for about 15 years now, this is the first year for the Cattle Egrets. There was an old country belief that a heron's nest had two holes in it, - so theat the heron could stick out it long legs when it was sitting on eggs.

Young herons teach themselves to fish and when they leave the nest in June - July, small garden ponds are attractive to them because they provide easy fishing. Herons fish mostly at dawn and dusk and so they are rarely noticed in the garden. Each day, an adult heron needs about 13 ounces of food, which is the equivalent to three 6-inch koi or ten 2-inch goldfish and they take twice as much as this when they are feeding young.

Herons should be discouraged from visiting garden ponds. Apart from taking prize goldfish and koi-carp, they may also introduce disease to your pond. Even if they don't manage to take all your fish, those that are left will become very stressed and stay hidden at the bottom of the pond. There are a number of methods to prevent herons taking fish.

These include:
Placing netting over the surface of the pond.
Place a plastic heron at the side of the pond.
Grow tall marginal plants around the pond.
Stretch a trip wire around the pond.
Use an infra-red sensor to set off a water feature or light.
Plant some shiny windmills beside the pond.

1. What are herons known as in Scotland?
2. What is the collective name for a group of herons?
3. What do herons feed on?
4. How much fish does an adult heron eat every day?
5. What other birds nest alongside the heron in West Cork?
6. Where would you find herons in Dublin?
7. Why should not be encouraged to garden ponds?
8. At what time of the day do herons feed?
9. Mention 3 ways in which you could discourage herons coming to your pond?
10. It was once believed that a heron's nest had two holes in it. What was the reason for this?


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