Weekly Photo Challenge: Unexpected Hawk Encounter for Great Blue Heron

The raptor swooped low across the secluded cove where the yearling great blue heron was fishing far out in the middle, exposed and vulnerable to danger.

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

The hawk strafing the great blue heron flew faster than the
heron’s reflexes could handle, not to mention my shutter speed.

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

Great blue heron reacts with erect cap feathers when buzzed by a hawk.

The atmosphere in the cove had been supercharged with energy when the hawk first made its presence known. The great blue heron’s cap feathers erected suddenly, and his neck feathers puffed out simultaneously, making his neck grow to three times it’s usual size as you can see in this next photo. (If you missed the earlier post, please click here to catch up.)

The ducks clamored furiously, and the jays squawked, but almost as quickly as it arrived, the hawk disappeared deep into the thicket at the East. As far as I could tell, no ducks or jays were harmed there below the dense canopy of trees.

The danger past, I returned to taking photos of the heron, who had resumed fishing mid-cove, his cap and neck feathers back to their normal sleek configuration.

What happened next was unexpected.

Through the camera, I noticed the heron’s neck blow up in alarm again to three times it’s normal size.

The hawk had returned, and was barreling down the cove – straight for the heron.

This time, unlike the first, I kept my eye glued to the camera and fired off shots as fast as possible.

The hawk appears in only one frame of all the photos I squeezed off, it’s the photo at the top of this post. The hawk was so spectacularly fast that the heron was still looking in the direction from where the hawk came long after the hawk had flown by.


Thanks to Cheri Lucas Rowlands and WordPress for the Weekly Photo Challenge: Unexpected.

Thanks to the kind folks at NaBloPoMo for the National Blog Posting Month challenge this November.


A selection of my heron and flower photos is now available at the Five Crows Gallery in Natick, MA. Drop in and see the work of the many wonderfully creative artists who show there when you’re in the area.

Remember: Walk softly and carry a long lens.™

The Tao of Feathers™

(This photo was taken August 21, 2010.)

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

Great Blue Heron, Northern Harrier Hawk

Posted on November 25, 2013, in ardea herodias, Art, Birds, Great Blue Heron, Hawk, NaBloPoMo, Nature, Nature Photography, Photography, postaday, Weekly Photo Challenge, Wildlife Photography and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. I’ve never had a chance to see a heron respond to a threat. You did a wonderful job of documenting the event. The hawk – a Northern Harrier perhaps?

    • Thanks for your kind words, Nick! I’m not entirely positive about the hawk. It could be a harrier, I don’t know for sure. Based on the specific location and their known territoriality there, my first guess would be a juvenile red tail – there’s a pair of red tails that nests nearby each year. But it would have to be a juvenile due to lack of red feathers on the tail. Maybe another reader has some thoughts? Unfortunately that’s the only frame with the hawk. Thanks for visiting and commenting again, Nick.

    • Thanks, I’m goad you like it. It was one of those experiencess that happened so quickly and only when the photos were downloaded was the full scene visible.

  2. My best guess for the hawk ID is a rough legged hawk, followed by a northern harrier.

    I’ve never seen a heron react to a red-tailed hawk, other than to watch them, the herons have never shown that they were alarmed in any way. I have seen them react to bald eagles though.

    • Thanks! I’m definitely not a hawk expert. In this case, now that I think of it, the birds in the cove all were reacting much more noisily than usual, so you and Nick are probably right that it wasn’t one of the local RTHs. I have seen a great blue heron show alarm at a red tailed hawk while sitting on eggs in the nest, and the hawk landed a few meters away. There are photos in my post showing a grackle riding the hawk’s back as thy flew off. We have had two Bald Eagles sighted this summer, I saw an adult and park rangers also saw a juvenile. Very exciting.

  3. That flash of white where the tail feathers meet the back is a pretty sure sign of a Northern Harrier. That first photo tells an entire story. Great photo.

    • Very cool then, looks like Nick, Quietsolopursuits, and you have all named Northern Harrier, so this is my first Norther Harrier, I’m excited by that! Thanks for confirming, and thanks to all of you for commenting. I’m amazed about the diversity of large birds in this cove – it is a very narrow strip of water, a finger really, and has red tailed hawks, great blue herons, an osprey and now a northern harrier there, plus an occasional turkey vulture and bald eagle sighting. Oh, and a deer and a fox.

  4. Great story and some fun shots, Babs. Enjoyed it. 🙂

  5. P.S. Looks like a Northern Harrier to me, too.

  6. Wow! As it happens, we are reading a fantastic book: Bird Sense: What It’s Like to Be a Bird — by Tim Birkhead. Check it out on amazon… (you can preview pages). He writes about birds’ senses and perceptions, for example, raptors’ sense of time (10x ours) and what many birds can see (and from which eye); why a corncrake’s call can be heard for 3 miles but doesn’t damage said corncrake’s eardrums, etc. Utterly fascinating — figured you’d enjoy it if you haven’t read it already!

    • Thanks sp much for your kind words, I’m glad you liked this post, and also many thanks for the book recommendation. I haven’t yet read it, just so e reviews, and it is definitely one I want to read. It sound vey fascinating!

  7. Great shot Babsje! I never knew the neck feathers could do that! Amazing!
    A Hawk would never attack something as large as a Heron would it?

    • Hi Wayne. Glad you like this one. A Cooper’s Hawk wouldn’t successfully attack such a large Heron and that Hawk and Great Blue peacefully shared that small slender cove. I think the Heron was more “startled” by the Hawk than frightened. The Heron displayed those erected feathers but made no attempt to flee at all. He just continued on fishing and didn’t budge from that spot. Thanks for the great comment. Best, Babsje

  1. Pingback: Weekly Challenge: Unexpected (4) | Through the Eye of Bastet

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