heron is said to bring bad luck if it flies over your house
A few weeks ago I watched a heron fly in towards our neighbourhood,
its wing beats ponderously slow-moving as it swerved and
headed away again to the marshes.
I was glad it changed direction and missed out flying over
any particular house, for the heron is said to be the harbinger
of an unlucky event.
It must, however, identify the house marked for the unpleasant
experience and on this occasion the great grey bird just
wheeled away in the distance.
This is just one of the many superstitions linked with the
grey heron: an old friend, a salmon angler, would gather
up his gear and flee the river bank, should a heron appear.
He told me that he once had lost three fish in play after
a heron apparition.
Unmistakable in appearance, the grey heron is a tall gangly
bird, long whitish neck, slender legs, boat-grey drooping
wings and a duck size weightless body.
It has a dagger like beak which makes it a very skilful
fisherman and a black stripe above its eyes running along
the crown to the top of its neck.
Though it nests in colonies, the heron is a solitary bird
and its always seen alone when it is stalking its prey.
Unlike the swan, the wild goose or many other birds the
heron retracts its powerful neck, almost coil like when
flying and its long legs trail underneath the tail.
In this country, the Shannon is probably the grey herons
best known habitat and there are heronries on some of the
islands where the birds nest.
There could be 15 or 16 nests in any one heronry, the birds
nesting on top of the tall trees.
This isnt always the case for at times a single bird
might choose to build its nest on the ground.
For some slovenly reason and Im sure more out of carelessness
than anything else the grey heron is commonly called a crane,
though this bird hasnt been native in Ireland since
the Middle Ages.
Perhaps, the appearance in some ways of both birds could
be considered similar, though in reality there are stark
A recent count in England, Scotland and Wales has shown
the total population at 10,000 such birds: here the number
wouldnt be anything like that.
One to two thousand wouldnt be far off the mark.
Surprisingly however, youd meet a grey heron in the
most unusual of places and anybody on a visit to any of
the wetlands in this region would be out of luck not to
see one or two.
I was surprised myself recently to see on standing stoically
on the traditional style one leg in a shallow on the River
Fergus in the middle of traffic grid locked Ennis.
Eventually frightened when a fishermans bait dropped
close to it the bird rose slowly, its massive wing span
carrying it skimming away above the traffic.
The males at this stage are quite show-offs, preening themselves
and displaying other love making signs.
After deciding on the site for the nest he invites the hen
of his choice to help him with the building.
Hell collect the twigs and the other building materials
and when she has laid up to a half a dozen hen-sized bluish
/ green eggs hell sit on them for a period each day
until theyre incubated.
Bird telepathy and the inexplicable gift they have for congregating
around a new item of food, very often road to casualty,
is quite amazing at time.
A robin will appear out of nowhere once a gardener gets
his spade; will assemble in the garden when the hens are
being fed and magpies will gather from all over the parish
when a rat is killed on the road.
A friend who built a lovely fish pond was shocked when his
fish started to disappear. It was miles from a wetland.
Then one morning the secret was out when he saw a great
grey bird flying off with the last of his goldfish.
Courtesy of Tom Brown - Limerick Leader