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A Majestic Bird Catches a Fish.

July 23, 2011

Great Blue Heron

Certain bird species are what I consider extra-photogenic; some have a lot of what I call ‘character’- meaning that they can always surprise you and present you with a worthwhile picture opportunity no matter how many images you’ve taken of the particular species before.

The species I’m going to discuss here has both of the above attributes.  Since I had my little photographic adventure that is the subject of this post, I’ve taken a few images I wanted to start out with.  I enjoy these birds quite a lot.

And now, to the story:

A Majestic Bird Catches a Fish.

At a local pond, a large shorebird came flying in for a landing, not being overly concerned that there were several people around- including me and my camera.  I didn’t mind.  Not at all!

Notice this birds’ distinctive look in flight- its long neck doubled up, its stilt-like legs dangling behind it.

It landed in the pond, not very far away from me.  I held my breath, and started to take many photos.

This is a Great Blue Heron, a common North American shorebird which can be seen along the seashore or at inland ponds and rivers.  Its long legs and bill, bluish-gray body and white face are identifying markers, as is the feather plume that curves off the back of its head (if you’re close enough to observe it).  I see them fairly frequently, flying over rivers or standing in shallow water here in Ohio.  Occasionally you can hear their croaking cry, which often sounds like frustration to me, particularly when I have unwittingly flushed one out from along a riverbank.  They hold quite still and you need to really look to see them at times.  But not this one…

This shorebird is patient, holding still for periods of time, then stalking slowly through the pond, alert for any movement below the waters’ surface. Notice how it raises and lowers it feet very deliberately.  They mainly eat fish, but a study of these birds in Idaho showed that almost half of the food their nestlings ate were voles, a mouse-like creature.  Who’d have thought?  Though it moves in a calm manner, when it spots something to eat, it moves fast.

To eat the fish it has caught, the heron flips it up and swallows it head-first.  Fortunately, this is a manageable bite- herons have been known to choke to death on large fishes (hopefully a rare event).

A Canada Goose strolls along the shore, yet our heron remains unperturbed.  This one is less skittish than many I’ve seen.

The heron, having picked up a nice meal, now flies away.  An impressive show!

When this incident was over, I was very happy to have been in the right place at the right time.  Believe me, that doesn’t happen every day 🙂  But when it does happen, it makes it all worthwhile.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. July 23, 2011 1:13 pm

    Love the opening picture with the texture of the water in the background.

  2. July 23, 2011 6:33 pm

    Very nice. I remember watching a heron in Georgia spend about ten minutes working on swallowing a single particularly spiny fish – it kept dipping it in the water and turning it round and round, until it finally found an angle that worked!

  3. July 23, 2011 10:51 pm

    What wonderful luck! You’re right, it doesn’t happen every day when you get to see something like that and photograph it as well. What a thrill to see that! 🙂

  4. July 24, 2011 12:38 am

    what an incredibly wonderful series of photos! That bird gave you a precious gift!

  5. July 24, 2011 3:22 pm

    Great blue herons are one of my favorites to photograph and watch as well. I didn’t know they fed on voles, but that explains why I see them hunting on dry land around ponds rather than in the ponds. Do the kestrels know the herons feed on voles also? Voles have no bladder control and leave a trail of urine in their wake all the time. Kestrals can see UV light, and vole urine glows in UV light, making the voles easy prey for kestrels.

  6. keekeepod permalink
    July 25, 2011 1:35 am

    Many years ago while walking on Vancouver’s seawall, I saw a large bird not unlike a blue heron with part of a fish in its mouth with the rest of that rather long fat fish wrapped tightly around the bird’s beak. The bird, therefore, could not open its beak to swallow the fish. Predator and prey were stalemated. I could stay to watch how the situation resolved because “nature called.”

  7. July 25, 2011 7:25 pm

    Wonderful details of the Heron’s hunt for the fish . I saw one of my visits to the State parks but my camera can’t capture the way yours did. I love the way you describe the birds characteristics coupled with the photos. Must be exciting to see all of these up close. Thanks for sharing.

  8. July 26, 2011 8:53 am

    I love your photo of the heron standing on top of a tree, they really are photogenic birds. It’s pretty incredible they can swallow a fish whole…I didn’t realize that they sometimes choke -yikes! Yes, hopefully a rare event!

  9. July 26, 2011 5:14 pm

    Tracy, these are amazing shots of the heron. Love them, but hardly ever see them…unfortunately. I have to say the first and third shots are stellar and my favs. Hope to be back on my posting perch tomorrow.

  10. July 29, 2011 11:39 am

    Thanks so much for the great comments everyone!

    Whenever I see a heron, I know I’ll probably take several pictures of it. That’s just the way it is.


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