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The Great Blue Heron Bonanza

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Last updated March 2011


That's probably the feeling this Great Blue Heron got when he stroke gold. But before getting to the catch of the day, let’s explore his other winnings. As I take a break from photographing song bird activity during spring migration at Point Pelee, I stumble upon one hungry heron. One can easily find blue herons fishing in the canals outside of the Point Pelee National Park. Just ensure you approach them slowly and quietly, as the Great Blue Heron is highly suspicions and shy of humans. After we both get comfortable, the heron continues his lunch and I start shooting. Throughout the next hour, I witness his successful and unsuccessful efforts to catch fish. Herons hunt by moving so very slowly through shallow muddy water, waiting completely immobile for minutes at a time, and striking the almost invisible water ripples at incredible speeds. As with all bird photography, a good camera and fast shutter speeds are highly recommended. To capture these moments…

Great Blue Heron Plunging Head in Water

…you need to set your camera to continuous shooting mode and eventually detect the barely visible movements that suggest an imminent strike.

With an amazing eyesight and excellent hearing, they can distinguish imperceptible movements and vibrations through the muddy and weedy water, just enough to make the fishing successful. Patience is rewarded with either the occasional frog or lizard or in most cases with small fish, as the above image illustrates. A quick toss in the air and the unfortunate fish is down the heron’s throat.

Today’s story illustrates an exceptionally rich lunch for the Great Blue Heron. It also uncovers a suite of eating behaviours for people interested in large wading birds. Witness more special moments in the Great Blue Heron gallery. See how the heron catches the fish within a mouthful of weeds and see how the heron spears small fish with amazing precision.

As you finish with the gallery, start the movie for twenty two minutes of intimate viewing and watch the heron during its lunch break. During the Great Blue Heron Bonanza Movie you’ll witness the following:

  • How a heron misses the fish… Heron: 0 – Fish: 1
  • How to move without agitating the water
  • How much patience is required to gain one small bite… Heron: 1 – Fish: 1
  • How the heron keeps its head completely immobile when a strike is imminent
  • How the heron gets into an euphoric mood as he strikes gold – the “Catch of the Day”
  • How the heron repeatedly kills the “Catch of the Day” for the remainder of the movie – approx. 10 minutes
  • How he positions himself at different angles and continues striking the dead fish (By now I felt deeply sorry for the fish and the fate of fish everywhere)
  • And while the fish is clearly dead, the heron continues to play with it
  • How a dog barks in the distance
  • How he cleans his meal in the water
  • How he tries repeatedly and unsuccessfully to swallow the fish (To swallow, the heron needs to properly align the fish to slide down its throat)
  • How heron endurance finally pays off
  • How one quick shake of the feathers ends lunch time

If you are willing to calculate the score between the Heron team and the Fish team, send me an email and I'll post it here. When does the heron strike gold? Towards the middle of the movie (around minute 12:00), our blue heron gets lucky and catches the big one – the "Catch of the Day". A fish large enough for him to have trouble swallowing in one single gulp. Watch the movie below.

Movie duration: 22 minutes, filmed with Canon XH-A1 in HDV 1080i. The movie was edited and optimized for web viewing by Alek Grguric at Overland Expeditions Video Productions.

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