April 8, 2016 ~ When Bill Maroldo first started taking me to Surfside, he would tell me stories about a Great Blue Heron he called Broken Wing, or BW. We would see him from time to time since he frequents a fairly small area under the Intracoastal Canal Bridge. When a Facebook friend posted a photo of him and mentioned his name, I decided it is time to make Broken Wing famous on the innerwebs since he is such an inspiration.
He is a very handsome fellow, as seen here in a recent photo. He has great shaggy chest feathers and you can see his lores (the skin around the eyes) are bright, breeding plumage blue.
I found this one of BW taken last winter. He was hunched up in the ponds under the bridge and had just made a big fluff up. You can see that right wing has an old injury, but he still hunts and eats well. And evidently is able to defend his territory since we seldom see any other Great Blues in the area. A few times we have even seen him drive off interlopers.
This is the earliest photo of Broken Wing Bill could find in his archives - taken in 2008. We do see him flying for short hops in the ponds under the bridge, but I suspect long distances are not possible. And that presents a real problem for him. How is he going to find a mate if he can't fly to rookeries or at least places where there are other birds?
But it wasn't always so. Bill went through his archives for me and found this photo of Broken Wing on his nest in 2009. Evidently a female came into his territory, or he ventured out and found one because they built a nest on a power pole near the bridge. Bill thinks the pole is now gone; at least nothing with those kind of insulators exists today. We have had a couple of storms since plus businesses have come and gone over the years.
Just for documentation, this appears to be Mrs. BW and the two offspring they raised. Seeing more of the pole and structure, it is long gone. My first job was for Houston Lighting and Power and I notice electrical distribution.
And here are the twins about a month later. These guys look really big and probably left the nest soon after they noticed Bill down below taking their photo. This documents a huge accomplishment for Broken Wing: to mate and successfully raise two offspring.
So, here is the old bachelor, BW ... he is sporting breeding colors but no females in sight. I don't know if he would be able to fly up to an elevated nest, after all he is seven years older now. Bill disagrees. Most Great Blue Herons are sexually mature at two years of age, so he has to be at least nine years old. Average life span for Great Blue Herons is around 15 years although one was documented in Texas as reaching 24 years of age.
Researching for this article I found some notations that the male will build a nest and then perform displays to attract a female. That strategy works in a crowded rookery but is unlikely in BW's home territory. I would hate to think he has built nests for naught over the years! And I wonder why Mrs BW didn't come back the next year?
Going through my archives I find mostly perfunctory, documentary photos of BW. That is going to change. Next time I see him, I want to spend some time and see what he is eating and where he is going. It is a real achievement he has survived this long with a disability. Nature is not kind to the less fortunate.
Have you seen Great Blue Herons near your neighborhood? Are you inspired by Broken Wing? Are you surprised we can find photos taken years ago? Let me know in the comments below.