Your birding month
Five birds to find in November include Golden Plover, Barn Owl and Shag
TALL, STATELY, ELEGANT, deadly. Grey Herons are magnificent, patient, killing machines. They are mainly fish specialists, given a decent supply of prey, but are equally adept at gobbling up ducklings, small mammals and amphibians, given the opportunity. But to concentrate on the heron’s diet somehow detracts from its beauty; and Grey Herons are undoubtedly handsome birds. Also, despite being extremely widely distributed across the whole of the UK, including the islands, the Grey Heron is a surprisingly uncommon breeder in this country, with about 13,000 nesting pairs. Compare this, for instance, with breeding populations of some birds you possibly don’t see every day: there are 27,000 pairs of Shag, 50,000 pairs of Tawny Owl, 200,000 pairs of Tree Sparrow, or 260,000 pairs of Stock Dove. Grey Herons nest colonially in heronries in trees, and there are relatively few suitable sites for them to breed, which is always going to keep the numbers down to an extent. They are much less fussy in their choice of feeding area, turning up at a wide variety of water bodies, from rivers and estuaries, ditches and lakes, to garden ponds. As our country is full of such habitats, Grey Herons can turn up anywhere. And the resident breeding population is boosted at this time of year by continental migrants, swelling it to more than 60,000 individuals in winter. Take some time this month to enjoy watching one of our most magnificent birds doing what it does best.