The Nixon Park Blue Heron: ‘Everybody knows his name’10/25/2022 12:56AM ● By Steven Hoffman
Anson B. Nixon Park in Kennett Square is more than a couple of nice ponds, a yearly trout rodeo, wandering paths and a splendid forest. It is also the home to the widely known and dearly loved Great Blue Heron, who appears to be the sentinel of the water.
This large bird with a six-foot wingspan and a long, pointed bill stalks meals most often from weeds at the edge of the water and waits patiently for small fish and insects to swim by. When he sees them, he bolts downward for the prey and swallows them whole, later shaking the water from his face.
On occasion, has been observed flying to the highest branches of the tall trees there and playing on the branches in the woodlands—perhaps looking for more lucrative fishing grounds.
One unusual characteristic of this particular bird is that he has little fear of park visitors, except children who chase him, and seems to pose willingly for photographs. Sometimes he will do the photographer the courtesy of gliding over the water to cast a large reflection following a prolonged, sit-down photoshoot.
A Nixon Park regular wrote on social media, “I think he always shows his good side to the camera.”
Another park visitor said, “Oh yes, I have loads of pictures of him, even of me standing beside him.”
Larry Newman, a visitor from Malvern who likes to explore the parks and trails of Chester County, recently came upon this heron for the first time. Newman quietly backed off and gingerly picked his phone from his pocket to catch a picture. When he was told the heron was friendly, Newman moved in close.
“I’ve seen herons before in my town, but they are skittish. I haven’t seen one as tame as this,” he said.
Still another visitor from Phoenixville said she has seen herons that stay for the winter and follow the streams in her town, but none so friendly as the Nixon Park Heron.
For this Great Blu Heron, life at the park is like being a visitor at the classic TV show “Cheers.” Everybody knows his name.
A recent survey of folks waking casually around the pond yielded unanimity in familiarity with him and these comments:
“Are you looking for the big bird?”
“I saw him yesterday, but not today.”
A Spanish-speaking fisherman, pointing: “He’s over there.”
“Everybody knows him.”
“He’s so cool”
“Sometimes he’s over by the stream when he thinks there are more fish there.”
Jake Riggins of Kennett Square Public Works, was working the park recently in the early evening. He said he has seen a single blue heron reside in the park for at least the past seven years. He did not recall seeing the herons during the winter, however.
Brian Winslow is the water conservation director at the Brandywine Red Clay Alliance in Pocopson. He has worked extensively on stream-bank restoration in the park and is familiar with the overall wildlife there.
He said he has additionally seen egrets (white with long neck), eagles, hawks and a green heron at the park.
He added that herons eat only animals (like frogs, fish and insects) while the other pond swimmers – the Canada geese – eat only vegetation.
Lest the park visitors regret that the Great Blue will leave for the winter, Wiinslow said the heron will probably stick around on-and-off as long as the pond isn’t frozen and there are still fish there.
Summing up what many apparently feel about this friendly bird, Kate Kelmellis from Lincoln University stood back, crossed her arms and surveyed the heron posing in front of her.
“He blends right in. I feel like I’m in a nature documentary,” she said.