The 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 heron’s 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 isn’t always the case for at times a single bird might choose to build its nest on the ground.
For some slovenly reason and I’m sure more out of carelessness than anything else the grey heron is commonly called a crane, though this bird hasn’t 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 differences.

A recent count in England, Scotland and Wales has shown the total population at 10,000 such birds: here the number wouldn’t be anything like that.

One to two thousand wouldn’t be far off the mark.
Surprisingly however, you’d 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 fisherman’s 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.
He’ll collect the twigs and the other building materials and when she has laid up to a half a dozen hen-sized bluish / green eggs he’ll sit on them for a period each day until they’re 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
November 2005