Teachable Moments

Nature vs Nurture?

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

Great blue heron fledgling perched in tree.
Is he calling out “Feed me!” to it’s mother?

How much of what a baby heron needs to master for survival is instinct, and how much is behavior learned from its family?

Until a heron chick fledges and leaves the nest, almost all of its food comes from the parents, who bring it back to the nest. I say “almost all” because the chicks can poke about for insects and grubs while in the nest, but they can’t catch fish there.

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

Great blue heron mother models how to fish for her fledgling.

In more than a decade of heron watching, there have been a handful of occasions where I have witnessed a parent heron “teaching” a fledgling once it has left the nest. The photos in today’s post are from one of those times.

In this instance, the mother heron patiently “modeled” fishing behavior for her fledgling. She stood motionless in the sheltered curve of the shoreline, until she caught the attention of the fledgling. The fledgling watched intently for a while, and then took a flying leap up and over the mother, and curved mid-air back around to land on the lowest branch of a tree. Once there, it frawhnked loudly a couple of times. Perhaps it was saying “Feed me!” to Mom, a few yards away on the shore?

The mother heron flew off to the west after the fledgling started calling out, and after three or four minutes, the fledgling took off in pursuit.

As quickly as possible, I followed suit in my kayak. After about ten minutes of hard stroking, I found both mother and child foraging along the northern shoreline about a mile a way.

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

Great blue heron fledgling follows it’s mother along the shore, learning how to forage.

The fledgling followed the mother along the shore, watching her at times and occasionally poking in the muck at others. The mother was careful to keep moving, and didn’t let the fledgling get too close.

When the fledgling landed it’s first fish, I wanted to cry out in joy, “Way to go baby bird!”


Thanks to Josh R and WordPress for the Weekly Photo Challenge: Family.

Thanks once again to Stewart Monckton for the Wild Bird Wednesday prompt.


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.

Five Crows is on FaceBook. To give the gallery a visit, please click here.

Remember: Walk softly and carry a long lens.™

The Tao of Feathers™

© 2014 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Great Blue Heron, Fledgling

Posted on January 19, 2014, in ardea herodias, Art, Birds, Feathers on Friday, Great Blue Heron, Kayaking, Nature, Photo Essay, Photography, postaday, Silent Sunday, Weekly Photo Challenge, Wild Bird Wednesday, Wildlife Photography and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. Very cool to actually observe bird behaviors, and then realize what’s going on. 🙂

  2. How utterly precious! A reward for all your patient watching.

  3. Hi Babs. Great fascinating post. Wonderful to have witnessed this. Thanks.

  4. Though we’ve had Great Blues on the ranch all my life, our totems of sorts, I’ve never had the opportunity to observe fledglings, in part because the rookeries have always been in the tops of sycamores and obscured by leaves. Thanks so much for filling-in this part for me, terribly intriguing.

    • John, many thanks for your comment, I’m glad you like this one. You’re fortunate to have nesting herons on the ranch, even if the nests are hard to see because of the leaves.

  5. What a joy it is to read your posts, Babs! You are honoring an avian beauty and educating your readers at the same time. Thank you!

  6. Terrific behavior you have witnessed!

  7. Fascinating! What an amazing experience that must have been to see!

  1. Pingback: WEekly Photo Challenge / B4 Retouch: Family (Tibet) | What's (in) the picture?

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