What’s for Lunch? Hint – Great Blue Heron 1, Chipmunk 0

Never eat anything with a face?

Does that apply to great blue herons, too?

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

Predator and prey: great blue heron catches chipmunk.

“And the great blue herons? They’re a study in Patience and Grace.” I’ve often said that. In fact, it’s a tag line for this blog.

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

Great blue heron about to swallow chipmunk.

But we need to remember that they’re not just graceful creatures, they’re also fierce predators. The top image in the right-hand sidebar is a potent reminder of the heron’s power: great blue herons average only 5-6 pounds, while the pike she has landed could weigh around 4 pounds. It was an epic struggle for her to catch and consume that pike.

Not only are great blue herons fierce predators, they are also opportunistic feeders. I have observed them eating a variety of prey besides fish – eels, crawfish, turtles, dragonflies, frogs, grubs, and plants – but until last week, I had never watched a heron catch a mammal.

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

Do you suppose she has second thoughts about swallowing?

One minute, she was fishing in a small cove, and the next? Striding down the shoreline, then striking out into the shrubs in one smooth, efficient movement.

The life or death struggle was no less epic for the chipmunk than it was for the pike, but for me, despite the instincts of a pro photojournalist, there was a vast contrast in the emotional charges of the two events. What I felt for the unfortunate chipmunk was stronger and deeper than what I felt for the pike, and I was repulsed by the chipmunk photos – by my own photos.

Yes, these sorts of predator-prey struggles are the way of Nature, the circle of life. There are some things, however, that cannot be unseen once the photographic genie is out of the bottle. I never could easily watch those nature videos of lions taking down elands in the African savannah. I cannot post here the dozens of crystal clear images of the great blue heron capturing the chipmunk, even though they would add to our understanding of heron behavior.

I cannot unsee them…

Did I ever mention that no two days kayaking at the lake are the same?


Thanks to Michelle W and WordPress for their Weekly Photo Challenge: Contrasts. Michelle asked us to speak to the topic of contrasts. In this post, I look at contrasts on two levels: the photos show the contrast between predator and prey, while the commentary touches on the contrasts of my emotions towards a mammal as prey compared to a fish as prey. I linked to a series of photos of the heron devouring a ginormous pike, but am taking a pass at sharing the equivalent series of photos where lunch is a cute furry mammal.

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


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, Chipmunk, Kayaking

Posted on July 1, 2014, in ardea herodias, Audubon, Bird photography, Great Blue Heron, Kayaking, Nature, Nature Photography, Photo Essay, Photography, Photography challenge, postaday, Weekly Photo Challenge, Wild Bird Wednesday and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. I find it amazing that the heron managed to catch that chipmunk. That couldn’t have been easy.

    • I agree! It happened literally on the blink of an eye, and I was dumbfounded, I’ve seen the herons scanning the underbrush for small critters before, and watched one chasing a chipmunk into someone’s yard, unsuccessfully. Glad you liked this one. Thanks for the kind comment.

  2. Good story babsje. I have watched GBH hunting in pastures near a small stream corridor, presumably for meadow voles.

  3. I had no idea they eat chips. This would be upsetting to see, but I have to remember this is what animals do. I have a pond on the dude if my townhouse and we have a Great Blue Heron and a White Egret hanging out there. It us fun to watch them stalk their prey – fish in the pond. Even Sydnee has been fascinated. She doesn’t even bark – she is mesmerized.

    • You’re lucky to have both heron and egret in your pond, they are lovely to see together, and it’s great about your dog’s behavior. I have watched a dog watching a great blue heron who was standing serenely on the shore. The dog waited for just the right moment to lunge at the heron, and of course, the heron merely lifted off effortlessly, leaving the dog behind on the shore looking puzzled by the disappearance of the bird. Too funny! Glad you liked this one, thanks for your comment!

  4. I’ve seen herons catch and eat moles, voles and mice, but never a chipmunk.

    • Thwnks, glad you like this one. Those are some very tiny, fast-moving targets for the heron to catch. A scurrying mouse can often elude agile cats, so it is impressive that a great blue has lightning-quick reflexes to catch one. You’re lucky to have seen those captures.

  5. Hi Babsje. What an extremely interesting post and observation. I am not surprised you did not post the series of those shots, it will be a good while before they are out of your mind.

  6. Nice! I’ve never seen them eat anything but fish.

  7. Thanks for the plug, Babsje. The Great Blues here endeared themselves to my father when he was establishing our irrigated pasture, in the 50s when I was a boy, half-dozen or more frozen sentries atop gopher mounds waiting, mostly in the spring when the creek ran too fast and muddy for their normal fare. They make quick work of gophers. In the past two decades, they have been joined by Great Egrets, not evident when I was a boy, hunting alongside them on the shore and in the field.

    • You’re welcome, John, I should shave also linked to your poem about the GBH. Thanks for sharing more of your story about the great blues and the gopher mounds. It’s fascinating to read how adaptable they have been over the decades there.

  8. Carole M/Australia

    wonderful to pick up photos with the catch of the day too; lovely series

  9. Wow I had no clue they would eat chipmunks. I too rarely watch animals in the wild killing other animals or hunters killing animals either. Just not my thing but I know it’s the “circle of life” in the wild and so therefore except it even though it is hard to see. You did get some amazing shots of the Heron and that unfortunate chipmunk though.

    • Many thanks for your thoughtful comment, Ida. I hear you about not watching the hunting and killing. There’s something about mammals that makes it harder to watch a heron killing one than a fish, although there have been recent writings about fish, and their surprising intelligence. Maybe I need to rethink a bit about fish. Glad you liked the photos.

  10. The sidebar photo is fabulous! All the shots are just great, showing the birds predatory nature. Wonderful!

  11. Wow, the heron must have been quick to grab the chipper! Awesome sighting and photos.

    • Hi Eileen – Many thanks for your kind words. I’m glad you like this one. I was amazingly lucky that day, to have seen this take place, to have been in the right place at the right time. It happened in the blink of an eye.

  12. It’s surprising the effect our own photos have on us sometimes.

  13. That’s gotta be one heck of a digestive system! All I can think of is Jonah inside the whale!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: