Milepost 76.9 – Westbound Between Exits 71 and 81
County: Sandusky How it got its name
The Great Blue Heron, one of the most spectacular birds of the Ohio landscape, nests in large colonies, several of which are located in the vicinity of the Blue Heron Service Plaza. The birds feed in the extensive marshes along the south shore of Lake Erie, north of the Ohio Turnpike, and in streams and upland fields in the area.
Standing four feet high, the stately Great Blue Heron weighs about seven pounds and has a six-foot wingspan. The back, wings and long supple neck are blue-gray, the white head is topped with two black plumes, and the long bill is yellow. This long-legged, solitary fisherman is usually seen stalking its prey in the shallow water, where it wades slowly or waits patiently for prey to come within its range, when is makes a quick thrust of its bill to snatch its food. Sometimes it can be observed flying ponderously not far above the water, its neck folded back and legs trailing. In flight it sometimes may utter a harsh, goose-like “honk.” When disturbed, it issues a hoarse, guttural squawk.
The Great Blue Heron feeds on a wide variety of aquatic life, but the bulk of its fish diet consists of non-game species. It occasionally visits cultivated fields in search of gophers, field mice and chipmunks.
Nesting colonies of these birds have been reported in 33 of Ohio’s 88 counties. There are frequently several nests to a tree. Colonies containing 150 or more nests are not unusual. The heron’s nest is formed of coarse sticks and lined with finer materials. Usually it is placed well out on a tree limb. Many nests are over three feet wide and are repaired and reused year after year. The heron generally lays four eggs of pale green.
Although protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty, few birds are in greater need of friends than the Great Blue Heron. Its large size makes is an easy and tempting target for the thoughtless and its nesting colonies are easily broken up by intruders.
Other members of the heron family which nest in Ohio are the crow-sized common Green Heron; the nocturnal black-crowned Night Heron and the graceful, white American Egret, both found regularly along Lake Erie; the rare yellow-crowned Night Heron; and the two Bitterns – American and Least, elusive inhabitants of the lake marshes. The American Egret is seen more commonly in late summer, when flocks which have nested farther south join the Ohio flocks on fishing expeditions before returning south for the winter. Other visiting herons include the small, golden-footed Snowy Egret; the uncommon Little Blue Heron; and the seldom seen Louisiana Heron. In the cattail marshes and adjacent mud flats along the Lake Erie shore the herons are found in company with an abundance of bird life – ducks and geese, soras and other rails, gulls and terns, and sandpipers and plovers, marsh wrens and red-winged blackbirds.
Bird life is abundant in Ohio, despite the draining of swamps and the removal of timber and other cover. Ohio is home to about 189 species of nesting birds. The state also has 169 varieties of fish, 62 kinds of mammals, 36 types of amphibians and 41 sorts of reptiles. On an average 100-acre Ohio farm can be found more than 2,000 members of some 50 species of birds and animals.