This photo does bear an disconcerting resemblance to a scafolding set piece housing the Council of Priests from the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar but it wasn’t constructed by a scenery crew and it isn’t the result of central casting. It is the great blue heron rookery, an ambitious neighborhood renovation project tucked into a corner of the Berksdale Golf Course in beautiful Bella Vista Arkansas. The herons who populate this rookery have been hard at work rebuilding nests damaged by this seasons storms that blew through the Ozarks.
Herons are solitary birds much of the time. They hunt alone. But they breed in colonies. There is safety in numbers. There is always a bird around the rookery keeping watch to protect the group. Great blue herons, the largest of all herons found in the United States, can be seen in Bella Vista year round. In late winter and early spring they diligently rebuild and expand their breeding and nesting habitat. Rookery improvements continue year after year-every year, not just those years when wind and rain blow things around. Nest building is part of the mating ritual. The twig nests grow larger and more sound every year growing to 3-4′ in diameter offering provide these big birds and their brood space and security while they raise their families.
Males arrive first and choose a nest with which to woo a mate. Heron’s are are not monogamous for life but are within a breeding season. Once a pair has committed to stay the year, they continue to work on the nest together eventually incubates 3-5 eggs. this time of year, you can observe fragments of the elaborate heron mating ritual which includes bill snapping, neck stretching, preening, circular flights, twig shaking, bill duels. Twig shaking? Is this where the “more than you can shake a stick at…” phrase originated. In the spirit of community, herons share twigs between partners and neighboring nest builder.
The great blue herons of Bella Vista and their human neighbors have the kind of relationship that allows both communities to live side by side in harmony. If you do decide to visit Bella Vista and see this nature drama play out yourself, observe this neighborhood from a respectful distance.
These photographs were taken by Quin Warsaw and John Huse, both members of the Bella Vista Photography Club http://bellavistapc.org/.