The Great Blue Heron

May 09, 2014

The Great Blue Heron

Our students have been reading excerpts from Jon Young’s, What the Robin Knows. The book has so many valuable lessons that teach our students to listen, to be aware of themselves and the effect they have on their environment and to see themselves as just a small part of an ecosystem. Jon Young explains how making yourself invisible, or at least welcomed into an environment by the birds, is all “about awareness, connection, empathy and respect.” This is an incredible connection to make. Here we are studying incredibly academic and scientific subject matter and all the while becoming aware of ourselves, making connections between our observations and practicing empathy and respect. It is truly amazing how just studying one book can make so many connections throughout our studies. In Session III, the group has used portions from Jon Young’s writing to study Native Americans, soundscape ecology, bird language, the ecosystem and biology. When we went to Wild Earth, many of the instructors knew of Jon Young and his writings and some had even taken some of his classes. Our students were so excited to make that connection. It is a powerful feeling to realize that you have read the same book as a professional in the field.

At one point in the book, Jon Young writes about knowing that a great blue heron had been killed by the sounds he and some friends observed as they were hiking around a lake one day. He writes, “Our idyll was interrupted by a loud CRROOOAAK – the basic heron alarm call, but pitched noticeably higher than usual, I thought, and with much more volume and a sort of cut-off-at-the-end quality. Overall, the sound was, for a heron, frantic and shrill. It was followed by a deafening silence stealing across the marsh, and I got a twisting feeling in my gut. I turned to everyone and said, ‘I think that heron just bought the farm.'” Upon further investigation, Jon Young and friends had discovered clear evidence that the heron had, in fact, been the victim of what they thought was a bald eagle.

As a class, we read this story and we made connections with our experiences in the park with the great blue. We learned that, “In the early morning and late evening in late spring and early summer, the great blue migrates between roosting and feeding sites. If you see a heron flying in its ungainly style at any other time, it has probably been surprised by a land-based predator (quite possibly a human being or a dog) or pushed off by an approaching eagle.” Now, whenever we see a great blue fly over our lake, we try to determine the reason for it’s flight.

Here, one of our students writes from the perspective of the great blue heron:

If I was a Heron, I would fly all over, striking fear into every fish’s eyes. Plummeting from above like a U.S. mortar strike, then swooping in, and woosh, little charlie the striped bass is no longer anywhere to be found.

The wind in my face, an image of true freedom as the Great Blue Heron soars over the bright blue lake in search for food.”


To learn more about Jon Young and his book, What the Robin Knows, visit the links below:

Wild Earth TripEcology board game