Expecting to Fly – Weekly Photo Challenge: Companionable

Imagine how lonely it would be to be only one, sitting alone in a high-up nest, waiting to grow in your feathers.

The nestlings are starting to try their wings. It is remarkable and yet I can barely stand to watch. They don’t have enough feathers yet for flight, since they’re only 4 1/2 weeks old, but they roughhouse with each other in amusing ways. 

It has been said that animal babies’ “play” helps develop their survival skills, and my observations of great blue herons over the past decade supports that theory. One form of great blue heron baby play is shown in the photo sequence here. The fledglings thrust and parry, grabbing each other’s beaks in a bill duel similar to that used by adult herons in courtship, and that also helps develop their eye-beak coordination.

Great blue heron fledglings at play: bill dueling.

Great blue heron fledglings at play: bill dueling.

Adult great blue herons are generally solitary creatures when not in mating and nesting season, and the nest play of chicks is one way they can improve their survival odds.

I am glad there are two of them, to keep each other company, and to serve as practice partners. I imagine it would be very lonely to be only one, sitting alone in a high-up nest waiting to grow in feathers before fledging, expecting to fly.

Thanks for the Weekly Photo Challenge nudge, Michelle W and WordPress.

(This took place July 29, 2012)

© 2013 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Posted on June 30, 2013, in ardea herodias, Birds, daily prompt, Fledgling heron, Great Blue Heron, Nature, Photography, Photography challenge, postaday, Weekly Photo Challenge, Wildlife Photography and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. So great!!! LG Anja

  2. I think this is true for the young of all species (including humans): we practice in play what we may need later on to survive as adults; or at least to learn concepts in a kinesthetic way (see Piaget’s theories of developmental functions of play). I watch our two young dogs play fight, feign movement in one direction and then run the other way, wrestle and roll around…. just like young boys will do with each other.

    • Exactly so, and I like how you’ve said this. I think “play” in birds has been less-well studied than in humans and other mammals, but there is a universality to the role of play, and what looks like play is often serious learning taking place. Thanks for your observation!

  3. Great photos and great incite into the use of playing in the animal world.

  4. These are such lovely photos! you are quite lucky to be able to watch them this closely and to see these beautiful animals at play!

    • Many thanks for the kind words. I am indeed grateful to have been able to observe that herons’ nest and the chicks. The nest is on a very small island, and I used a telephoto lens from my kayak to take these photos, so I was able to view without getting too close or endangering the nest. In fact, while out in the kayak, part of my role is deterring others from approaching too closely (or even attempting to land on the island).

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