“It’s an Effing Pterodactyl” Bellowed the Fisherman

At breakneck speed, all were flung into the present as the man in the bass boat bellowed, “It’s a pterodactyl! It’s an effing pterodactyl!

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

Great Blue Heron stalking a fish.

Long-time readers may remember that true story of the bass fisherman’s unexpected encounter with a Great Blue Heron last year. (Click here if you missed it.) At the time it was amusing – I had my head down stowing gear under the bow of the kayak and didn’t actually see the GBH, but hearing the man shriek about a pterodactyl left no doubt about what had just crossed his bow.

So, when even a random fisherman makes that association, I am definitely not alone in seeing herons as modern-day relics of a prehistoric time.

In this blog, I like to focus on sharing first-person observations and my own original photos rather than offering up a rehash of information that anyone can find on the interwebs via duckduckgo.com or any of the other search engines, but sometimes there are exceptions. Today’s post is one of them.

According to the wonderful resource, Heron Conservation:

The herons are a fairly ancient group of birds. Although bird fossils are rare, herons are exceptionally rare even by avian standards totaling fewer than 40 identified species. Herons first emerge in the fossil record some 60 -38 million years ago.

Just out of curiosity, I searched Getty Images for fossils that might be similar to modern Great Blues.

Below are three ancient bird fossils. The first two are clearly labeled as Pterodactyl fossils:

Embed from Getty Images
[Pterodactyl fossil, Pterodactylus kochi, Jurassic. Eichstatt, Germany. (Photo by John Cancalosi.)]

Embed from Getty Images
[Fossil of a Pterodactyl. Fossil of pterodactylus spectabilis. (Photo by CM Dixon/Print Collector/Getty Images)]

It was exciting to find those Pterodactyl fossils online, but what really fired my imagination is this next fossil. Look closely. Do you see why?

Embed from Getty Images
[Fossil Bird. Green River Formation, Wyoming. Eocene, 50 million years ago. (Photo by John Cancalosi.)]

One of the most striking characteristics of Great Blue Herons is the way they fly with their necks kinked into an S-shape. This is made possible because of the configuration of the heron’s sixth neck vertebra.

Look at the bird fossil above. Do you see the S-shape of the neck, how it seems to curve sharply around the sixth vertebra?


Maybe it’s just a coincidence (and this blog isn’t rigorous science in any case), but seeing that ancient fossil bird’s neck mirror that of the herons I see today brought goosebumps.

I love when that happens.


Thanks to Donncha and WordPress for their Weekly Photo Challenge: Relic.


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, Fossils, Pterodactyl

Posted on July 13, 2014, in ardea herodias, Art, Audubon, Birds, Fossils, Great Blue Heron, Nature, Photography, Photography challenge, postaday, Pterodactyl, Weekly Photo Challenge, Wildlife Photography and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. I’ve often wondered why the herons fly with their neck in that characteristic pose. I would have assumed that straight forward might have been more aerodynamic.

    • Good point. Great Blues do sometimes fly with their necks fully extended. For example, when chasing off other herons, they sometimes use an aggressive flight posture that has their neck extended and placed somewhat lower than their body mass. It makes their beaks look like a deadly weapon aimed at an adversary. There have been times when I’ve seen a heron flying with their neck like that but until I noticed that posture, I didn’t know there were actually two herons around. Once I saw that posture, I turned around and easily saw the second heron, the target of the aggression. Now I know that things are about to get interesting whenever I see a heron flying purposely with its beak and neck extended like that! Thanks for visiting and commenting here again!

  2. HI A fascinating post and I had not seen the previous one so I click and saw that as well.

  3. Ah, yes – “Walk softly and carry a long lens.” Great advice 🙂

  4. Love how you combined personal experience with avian archeology in this post!

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