Who You Calling a Birdbrain? Great Blue Heron Fishing with a Twig

… I go and lie down where the wood drake rests
in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
or grief. I come into the presence of still water.

Wendell Berry
The Peace of Wild Things (excerpt)
The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry

Great blue heron fishing using a twig to attract the fish.

Great blue heron using a twig to lure fish.

The great blue herons elicit many different emotions as I float in the kayak, watching them. There are moments of absolute stillness and peace there on the water, and mindful moments imbued with wonder. There’s love and concern for the herons I’ve come to know over the years. Sometimes there’s a touch of humor, and other times a sense of curiosity and a wanting to learn more. Sometimes the photos I take are capital A art, other times merely nature photos from the field. Today’s post is not art, just sharing observations about tool use by herons.

Yesterday’s post related my first-hand experience watching a heron use a seagull feather as bait. (If you missed that magical photo, please click here to catch up.)

Today’s post shows a different great blue heron fishing. This bird is a yearling, and may be the offspring of the feather-wielding heron.

The photo sequence below was taken almost one year earlier than the one in yesterday’s post. In today’s sequence, the great blue heron yearling wiggles a twig in the water to attract the fish.

In numbered sequence from top left:

  • The heron picks up the twig in frame one.
  • In frame two, she holds the twig in the water and wiggles it a bit.
  • Next, in the third frame, she has again picked the twig up out of the water.
  • At bottom right, she is once again wiggling the twig to lure in her prey.
Great blue heron fishing using a twig to attract the fish - sequence.

Great blue heron fishing using a twig to attract the fish – sequence.


Thanks once more to Prairiebirder Charlotte for her Feathers on Friday prompt.

Also, thanks to the kind folks at NaBloPoMo National Blog Posting Month this November.

Thanks also to Skinnywench for the Word a Week Challenge: Favorite. No secret, great blue herons are my favorites.

Thanks again to Stewart Moncton for the Wild Bird Wednesday prompt.

Thanks to Petrel41 for the heron links provided in the comments section of yesterday’s post.


Remember: Walk softly and carry a long lens.

(This took place August 28, 2010)

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

Posted on November 1, 2013, in A Word A Week Photo Challenge, Adult Heron, Bird photography, Birds, daily prompt, Feathers on Friday, Great Blue Heron, Michelle's Weekly Pet Challenge, NaBloPoMo, Nature Photography, postaday, Wild Bird Wednesday, Wildlife Photography and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 27 Comments.

  1. Sooo… did it work?

    • Yep, in a way. The fish didn’t latch on to the twig as they would a fishhook, obviously, but the twig did stir up a fish that the heron then chased down after a bit of further stalking.

  2. Wonderful set of photos, so well captured!
    Love, Dina

    • Thanks so much for commenting. It fascinates me, too, and watching things like this unfold usually takes a while before I’m able to sort out exactly what the heron is doing. In this case, when she first picked up the stick, I had no idea it would end up becoming a fishing pole for her.

  3. Wow, I had no idea they do this, thank you.

    • You’re welcome, and I’m glad you like this one. Crows are the master tool users of the bird world, but some others – like the two herons I blogged about – also are able to use items like sticks and feathers to help catch fish. Thanks for visiting and commenting.

  4. Beautiful again, Babsje 🙂

  5. Wonderful photos, indeed, and once again, it shows the ingeniousness of this amazing bird which I’ve learned to like thanks to you 😀

  6. Interesting! Beautiful bird.

  7. Stunning observation and photographic essay about an extra-ordinary bird.

  8. Fantastic shots of the hérons

    • Thanks so much for your kind comment. It was fascinating to watch how this Heron used a twig as a tool. Crows are known to make use of tools, but as you can so, Herons do as well. Best, Babsje

  9. Did you ever contact Cornell about this behaviour Babsje? Surely it is very rare for them to do this? I asked my birding friend about it and he has never heard of this before?
    If the Heron did attract a fish, what would it do I wonder? Drop the stick suddenly and lunge at it? Wouldn’t dropping the stick spook the fish and If It took the time to gently place the stick on the log the movement would spook the fish as well!
    If It lunged at the fish with the stick in its mouth the stick might stop or hinder it getting the fish?
    It just doesn’t seem practical?

    • Hi Wayne. Great questions, thanks for them. I did not contact Cornell about this. I did contact them last month about unusual ghost feathers on an Osprey and no reply except that they added me to their email list and every week I receive their newsletter. They say they receive 80,000 emails a year and can’t reply. I have seen video of Green Herons using bread as bait to lure fishes to the surface, same principle as fly casting. And they spear the hapless fish. The difference is the fish can grab the bread hunks as bait. I doubt the lake fish would grab the Heron’s stick obviously. When I watched the Great Blue fishing using the Gull feather, the bird did let go of the feather, it floated on the water and then the bird picked the feather up again and attempted to lure the fish. I think the feather would be more likely to succeed than a stick for the obvious reasons you point out. Or, just to be silly, maybe it’s just a game the Heron plays – draw in fishes with the lure just to watch them with no real hope of catching? I have seen photos from one other person showing a Great Blue holding a stick in the water, so it’s not just the 3 birds I’ve seen at my lake. It’s a mystery! Thanks. Best, Babsje

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