The Grey Heron
Osney Lock Hydro has commissioned a mosaic in celebration of our centuries old relationship with the river. Local artist Josie Webber has created designs featuring native species nominated by local residents, and incorporating pottery fragments found in West Oxford. The marker stones will form part of a human sundial to be installed on the site. This project has been made possible thanks to the support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Each month we’ll shine a spotlight onto one of the species featured in the mosaic, thanks to a series of blogs written by local residents.
The first in the series is by Jenny Figueiredo and celebrates the Grey Heron.
The stately and solitary Grey Heron (Ardea Cinerea) is one of the UK’s biggest and most unmistakable birds, and is a familiar sight to Osney residents. They are graceful and gangly in equal measure, with long legs, long beak and grey, black and white feathers.
Herons feed mainly on fish, but also eat waterbirds, crayfish and small mammals – even moles. They don’t migrate, and so can be seen at any time of year looking for food in rivers, lakes and even garden ponds. If you see a heron standing in a field, it is probably digesting rather than hunting, because they sometimes eat very large prey such as eels, which can take a long time to go down.
Herons nest in colonies called ‘heronries’, often in the tops of trees. Here, they make their large and slightly clumsy nests out of twigs and lay 3-4 eggs. The young will fledge from the nest after about one and a half months.
Herons have special feathers on their breast called ‘powder down’, which they crush with their feet and spread over themselves to keep clean. The powder soaks up the muck and grime from their feathers, and also helps to keep them waterproof.
Despite this cleanliness, anglers once believed that herons’ feet gave off a scent that attracted fish, and often carried a heron’s foot to bring them luck (although not much luck for the poor heron). Once a regular dish on the medieval banqueting table, the heron is now thankfully a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, with hefty fines or prison sentences awaiting anyone attempting to kill one.
Osney Island’s very own resident heron can often be found under the footbridge to the island, staring intently into the water for his next meal. His name is Eddie, and he even has his own Facebook profile – search for Eddie Heron and send him a friend request.