The grey heron (also known as Common Heron) is a large solitary wader. Very cautious, he is rarely seen in gardens, but he can nevertheless be attracted to ponds to catch fish or frogs. He will then return until he has exhausted this very point source of food. Shy, he flies away precipitously when he is disturbed. It will then be necessary to be patient to observe its fishing at dawn or in the evening. Fish farmers who view the arrival of a Grey Heron with a negative eye should contact a bird protection organization.
Grey herons generally nest in colonies (heronry), which can be frequented for centuries. The brooding period begins early often before the first leaves appear on the trees.
The Grey Heron likes wetlands. When hunting, he frequents a variety of habitats in running or stagnant, salty or brackish water, provided the depth is not too great; that is, less than 40 cm: marshes, ponds, lakes, rivers, flooded areas, ditches, lagoons, polders. In Brittany, he also frequents the sea shores. Its long legs allow it to walk in shallow water in order to spot its prey transparently on the surface of the water. He is able to stand still for long periods on the lookout for his next meal. When a prey does show up, he caught it with its long neck and harpoon-shaped beak very fast. The dishes he likes are varied: fish, crustaceans, amphibians … he knows how to show a certain opportunism. Outside the breeding season, it is frequently observed in cultivated fields, wastelands and meadows where it feasts on rodents.
Throughout the ages and beliefs, the heron and the stork are often confused. In Christianity, the heron can symbolize Christ because he attacks the diabolical snake… We find the opposition to the snake in Cambodian beliefs where this time the wader is a sign of bad omen and drought.
In the book of Jeremiah (VIII 7), he is one of the birds capable of knowing “his season” and therefore his age. He is also considered the most sober bird because “its bed and its food are in the same place”.
In the medieval bestiary, he also carries a positive value by representing the souls of the Chosen who direct their quest towards higher spheres or the Beyond.
In Greek mythology, the heron is associated with Poseidon and is seen as a good omen.
European and African traditions make it a symbol of indiscretion and misplaced curiosity “which sticks its beak everywhere”. More positively, it signifies vigilance.
According to certain studies on the etymology of the word phoenix, this mythical bird capable of being reborn was originally a purple heron. The solar bird in Greek mythology was probably inspired by the Bennu (heron deity) of Heliopolis in Egypt.
To conclude, in Hayao Miyazaki’s last film, The Boy and the Heron, which is released this year, is interested in the symbolism of this bird through the philosophical learning of the young hero.
Photos and illustrations : © Jacques Julien