Main Page

Great Blue Heron

BIRDS OF CALIFORNIA
An Introduction To More Than Three Hundred Common Birds Of The State and Adjacent Islands
by
Irene Grosvenor Wheelock
Chicago, January 1, 1904


 Out of Print Book with Unique Narrative about John Muir, Great Blue Heron, and Sycamore
 

"The Great Blue Heron is a common species throughout California, and nests in almost every locality where it is found. At Muir Station, California, there is a large heronry in sycamore trees on the property of Mr. John Muir, and the noise of the young birds at feeding time can be heard half a mile away. The birds return to their heronry in February, and the young are hatched in April, though fresh eggs have been found as late as June 1. The young are fed by regurgitation, which in this case is a more than usually ludicrous performance. So violent is the shaking which each young heron undergoes in the process of receiving his food that he seems in imminent danger of being jerked out of the nest and hurled to the ground fifty feet below.

These herons fly miles to obtain fish for food, and one or the other parent is en route during all the daylight hours. After having been fed, the young heron draws back his head until it lies upon his shoulders, and sits there a sleepy, solemn-looking hunchback until the next feeding-time.

For you to understand more about this unique naturalist, I have included some passages from the introductory remarks of her book. Her Introduction is five pages and I have quoted the first page and most of the last two pages here as follows:

"California is the land of sunshine, flowers, and bird song. In the great sweep of country from Mexico on the south to Oregon on the north are found climatic conditions ranging from the Arctic circle to the tropics. The valleys blossom with roses, while the mountains are crowned with perpetual snow. Hence we find a flora and fauna as unique as the climate. It is the paradise of the bird-lover as well as the tourist. Birds of the Torrid ZOne come here; birds of Alaska winter here; birds from the mountains come down into the valleys. There is constant movement north and south, a lesser one vertically from the warm lowlands to the colder altitudes, or vice versa.

"To live among these fascinating feathered folk and not long t know them, one must have eyes that see not and ears deaf to Nature's music..."

Long and careful study of the feeding habiats of young birds in California and teh Eastern United States has led the author to make some statements which may incur the criticism of ornithologists who have not given especial attention to teh subject. For instance, - that the young of all macrochires, woodpeckers, perching birds, cuckoos, kingfishers, most birds of prey, and many seabirds are fed by regurgitation from the time of hatching through a period varying in extent from three days to four weeks, according to the species. Furthermore, that birds eating animal flesh or large insects give fresh (unregurgitated) food to their young at a corrspondingly earlier stage of development than do those varieties which subsist on small insects or seeds. Also, that exclusive seed eaters are usually fed by regurgitation so long as they remain in the nest. Out of one hundred and eighty cases recorded by the author, in every instance where the young were hatched in a naked or semi-naked conidition they were fed in this manner for at least three days....

... Hummingbirds, swallows, and few others are fed by regurgitation so long as they remain in the nest...The list is a long one, and as most if not all of these instances are mentioned in their individual biographies, given in this volume, they need not be cited here. Scientists have long known that pigeons, doves, and hummingbirds feed their young in this manner, and the discovery that most species do likewise need cause no surprise.
Irene Grosvenor Wheelock. Chicago, January 1, 1904.

Irene Wheelock, first published her book on California birds in 1904, but it went through 5 editions, the fifth being in 1920. She states that she received universal kindness in preparing her book from Mr. Charles Lummis, Mr. Joseph Grinnell, Mr. John Muir and others. I think that she did a universal kindness to all the birders of California, 100 years later. Her book deserves to be reprinted to better understand the long history of birdwatching in California. Birdwatching is one of the longest traditions of recreation and conservation in the state of California.

Her field notes began in 1894, and continued through 1902. She traveled widely in the state making most of her obervations at such notable locales as Santa Catalina Island, Lake Tulare (near the Carrizo Plain), Farallon Islands, Martinez (John Muir's home) and 20 other locations in California as well. It is amazing that someone could come from the midwest (Chicago),spend eight years in California and then write a book of 578 pages. The book is particularly useful for natural history and environmental history research.

John Muir's 1896 journals on herons and sycamores that Irene Wheelock wrote of in her book. This link between Muir, Wheelock, and herons is truely natural history as history a Century Ago