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Great blue herons are long of this world, an old species, fossils dating back at least 14 million years.

In certain poses these birds can show that ancient age. If you google the bird it's hard to find a species account that does not include reference to "prehistoric flying dinosaur," "Great blue pterodactyls," "almost prehistoric sound," or "prehistoric reptilian-looking creature."

Birds, herons included, are distantly related to dinosaurs, but herons are no more closely related than are chickadees.

They just look that way at times.

Catch them in transitional moments — sudden takeoff, a landing into the wind — and they have an ancient air, the bone and angles of a creature chipped from rock and put together with wire.

Great blue herons are found throughout most of North America, and are common in Minnesota. They are birds of the family ardea.

I wanted more info on that family so I searched Google with the words "heron family." I came up with the genealogy of, among others, the Thomas and Sarah Herons.

The more effective search word is the Latin name, ardea. You discover that this bird family has 12 members, scattered worldwide, including great egrets.

(Turns out there also is an unfeathered Ardea family dating to 1920 in Arizona, more info on, which does not do birds.)

Great blues are stately in repose, standing quietly at lakeshores or on the edge of a cattail marsh, often there to defend a feeding territory.

They maintain their solemn attitude when flying. They move as mourners on wing.

Herons are wary. It's hard to get close to them purposefully. And they do not stay to exchange pleasantries when surprised. I have taken many photos of heron nether parts.

These are communal birds, nesting most often in colonies, the site chosen for at least two reasons. The birds prefer to be close to good foraging locations, and they seek terrain that will discourage mammalian predators. Raccoons are deadly.

An island will work, or a stand of dead trees in the middle of a swamp. Wherever, trees are important as foundation for the stick nests. Great blues also will use artificial nesting platforms.

Include people among mammalian predators, although I don't think many would consider herons suitable for the fry pan. Fishy taste, and tough, I'll bet.

It's curiosity that draws us near, unfortunately, for herons sometimes will abandon nests and even hatchlings if disturbed.

Heron nests often are mixed in trees with those of double-crested cormorants, the species often blamed for bad fishing days. Both species eat fish, herons able to swallow larger fish. Neither is a threat to fishing as a sport, however.

A heron colony is no place for the weak-stomached. (If you are reading this at breakfast, stop now.) The ground beneath the large stick nests could be found covered with egg shells, feces, rotting prey remains and dead chicks.

Chicks in the nest will lean from its edge and vomit when disturbed, another reason to enjoy this creature from a distance. Three hundred yards is recommended for the sake of the birds, a peripheral benefit to us.

Researchers say the bird will eat almost any creature it can capture and swallow — fish, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, even other birds. It can handle food items longer than 14 inches.

In Montana a few years ago I watched a heron battle a trout as long as my arm, hand to elbow. The bird won; the battle was over when it tired of being jerked around by a flopping fish and stabbed it.

For certain Native peoples a heron is a sign of good luck. Dreaming of a heron symbolizes luck, prosperity and determination according to the website Mysticurious.

Heron facts

Adult great blues weigh about 5 pounds. Males are slightly larger than females. Conservation — a species of least concern. Winter for Minnesota birds is likely to be on Caribbean shores.

Lifelong birder Jim Williams can be reached at