Beautiful Great Blue Heron’s Predator-Prey Life and Death Struggle
Never eat anything with a face?
Does that apply to Great Blue Herons, too?
(Frequent readers of this blog know that some posts are Art-with-a-capital-A, and some are my personal photojournalist observations from the field. This post is not capital-A-Art, although the Great Blue Herons are decidedly works of art in and of themselves as far as I am concerned.)
“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.
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 that day, I had never watched a Heron catch a mammal.
One minute, she was fishing in a small cove amongst the reeds, 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?
Cee Neuner and the creative and inspiring Lens Artists Tina, Amy, Patti, and Leya all encourage the community of photographers and writers. Please click the links below to see the beautiful offerings from these wonderful photographers.
The focus for this week’s Lens Artist challenge hosted by Amy is “Celebrating.” Great Blue Herons like many wild creatures are often hungry, and any meal can be a cause for celebrating. For the hapless Chipmunk today? Not so much.
Thanks to Cee for her Cee’s FOTD. I have no idea what those flowering reeds in the lead photo are called.
From Tina Lens Artists Weekly Photo Challenge 177: Celebrating .
From Patti Lens Artists Weekly Photo Challenge 177: Celebrating .
From Amy Lens Artists Weekly Photo Challenge 177: Celebrating .
From Leya Lens Artists Weekly Photo Challenge 177: Celebrating.
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TCAN – The Center for Arts Natick
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Be a fly on the wall! Please CLICK HERE to see the Great Blue Herons gracing the gallery walls.
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© 2003-2021 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)
Great Blue Heron, Kayaking, TCAN, Five Crows, Natick
Posted on December 8, 2021, in # Lens-Artists, ardea herodias, Birds, Heron, Mindfulness, Nature, Photography, Wildlife Photography, Wordless Wednesday and tagged #fivecrows, FOTD, Lens-Artists Photo Challenge, TCAN. Bookmark the permalink. 45 Comments.
Great photo of the heron! All creatures struggle to survive…
Hi Amy. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. You’re right. It is a day-to-day struggle for survival. And cause for celebration of catching a successful meal. Thank you for hosting the great challenge. Best, Babsje
I’m entirely with you on that! I have to look away or switch off when the National Geographic films become too graphic. Though I know beautiful creatures still have to kill to survive.
Hi Jo. I’m so happy to hear you say that! Yes it is the way of Nature and the circle of life, but sometimes those videos seem like wanton violence to me. Many thanks for your kind comment. Best, Babsje
I can understand that Babsje. One of the emotions that separates us from most animals is our ability to feel for other animals….empathy.
What you were feeling was how “you” felt it would be like If this was you! Very hard to feel for a fish, so have at it I say.
Who knows….one day this Heron may be on the menu, then you’ll be feeling a totally different set of emotions!
Hi Wayne. Astute observation about empathy, thanks! And I’m happy that Heron isn’t on any menus around here. Chipmunk, too. I wonder if it tickled the Heron’s throat more than a fish would? Best, Babsje
especially your first picture is really GREAT 👍 👍 really something special, out of the ordinary.
Thanks for showing.
We have no problem with the law that nature is eating and be eaten. That has nothing to do with morals or similar feelings that apply to humans only.
Wishing you all the best
The Fab Four of Cley
🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
Many thanks for your kind compliment! I’m pleased that you like the first photo – it is one of my own favorites. And you’re exactly right about the way of Nature being eat or be eaten. Even plants are sentient beings, not just animals. Trees communicate with each other. Plants move themselves to face the sun. I have watched Paperwhite Narcissistic move to follow the sunlight as it crosses my living room across the course of a day. Isn’t Nature grand? All my best to the Fab Four of Cley. 😊 😊 😊 😊 And special congratulations on your new book. How exciting. Best, Babsje
I can understand your dilemma here Babsje, I felt for the poor chipmunk too 💛🐿
Thank you so much for sharing your empathy in your lovely comment. I felt shock at seeing the Heron go after the Chipmunk. And I’m a little embarrassed to have felt a tiny bit of relief that it wasn’t a Squirrel or Bunny that became lunch that day. Best, Babsje
Interesting observation Babsje. I’m not sure why we relate more emotionally to mammals vs fish – perhaps because they are close to us as species go. We’ve always been told that fish have no pain sensors – I suspect that is not true but I prefer not to explore it! Loved the photo in the reeds.
Hi Tina. Many thanks for sharing your perspective. I think you’re right that we may be wired as mammals ourselves to relate more closely to other mammals than to fish. I’m with you in thinking that fish do indeed feel some manner of pain but I have no proof. Just thinking about stories like The Old Man and the Sea raises the possibility… But of course that is fiction not fact. Best, Babsje
Love your first photo, Babsje – and Nature rules. We all struggle in our own ways, to survive. in the western world humans struggle more and more to survive mentally .
Many thanks for your kind comment, Ann-Christine. I do agree with you on both fronts – Nature rules and also that in the West, some struggle more and more mentally. The past two years of pandemic haven’t made it any easier all around the world. Best, Babsje
I was quite surprised to see a heron take a chipmunk. I’ve seen them feed on fish, frogs, crawfish, and snakes, but never a mammal. Your reluctance to post clearer photos brought a smile. I have a set of photos showing an American Kestrel happily tearing apart a bird of some sort, but I’ve never been able to post them.Nature may be red in tooth and claw, but not all of those scenes are comfortable to see.
Many thanks for your thoughtful comment. I like how you said this: “Nature may be red in tooth and claw, but not all of those scenes are comfortable to see.” If you like Kestrels, have you ever seen any of Robert Fuller’s Kestrel videos? He has wonderful Kestrels and Owls, too, on his YouTube channel. Best, Babsje
What a lovely seen heron and this gorgeous nature 🌷👌🙏😊
Thank you very much for your lovely comment. I’m glad you like this Great Blue Heron. Best, Babsje
You are so welcome 🌷🙏🌷
Excellent. I think I’m a lot like herons, in that I’m on a constant seafood diet, as in, ‘see food, eat it’. 😱
Brilliant comment, thanks for the smiles it brings, John! I like that diet, myself. Best, Babsje
Aww, poor chipmunk. I didn’t realize herons ate anything other than aquatic type things.
Thanks so much for your empathetic comment! I’ve seen photos of a Great Blue catching a large Rabbit. When they’re sufficiently hungry anything goes apparently. Best, Babsje
It’s an interesting contradiction how we feel when prey is cold blooded, or say a fish, or when a mammal / bird is captured. Here we feel the same way when an Alligator finds prey. Crabs, fish we click away. The other day it was an Otter, not the same at all ! Perhaps being mammals ourselves we feel a kinship of some kind.
Hi Ted. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I agree with you that humans may be hard-wired to empathize with mammals. Like attracts like. I’ve been amused for years, though, by online photos or Egrets perched sanguinely on the backs or Gators or Crocs! Symbiotic relationships are fascinating. Best, Babsje
That symbiotic relationship is playing out right now in our swamps. The Herons are selecting the nest sites, usually in a cypress tree, while directly below in the water are Alligators watching. The gators keep the trees safe since no animal wants to swim out to climb the cypress for prey. However, every year young birds fall from the nest to the Alligators below.
Yep that makes sense. Plus the Gators can score any hapless fish the Herons drop. Nesting time is a good time to stay away and give the Herons extra privacy so they do not abandon the nests, as well. In theory Herons need at least half a mile for their exclusion zone during nesting. Too many photographers forget about that and so they get too close to the Herons for that special photo op. Alligators don’t seem to bother them though. Best, Babsje
The rookery near here is much different. People are ignored, within reason. Once. There is water between birds and others they feel safe. I have had some Herons walk right by me keeping a safe distance.
Hi Ted. Thanks, that’s cool. They are fairly tame here, too, but the expert thinking during nesting time and feeding time and shortly after fledging time is to give the recommended exclusion zone so as to not impact breeding. I almost always photograph from a natural cover hide so they aren’t aware of my presence, for their protection. I have had them literally land one foot away because of being so well hidden. I also enjoy your Pelican, Egret, Ibis, Wood Stork and Spoonbill photos. We don’t have them here!
Greatly appreciated. This is a wildlife photographers heaven here. The main rookery here has been around since 1860. Even Audubon came here for research. It’s natural for them to see people on the trail, water is the key and they know they are safe.
With luck cloud cover will move so I can go over again today.
Have fun Ted!
I know they eat a lot of different critters, but I’ve never seen them eat a mammal. I would have had a hard time seeing that too. Chipmunks are so cute! Of course at this time of the year I think of Alvin and the chipmunks. 😁
Many thanks for your lovely comment and reminder about Alvin and the Chipmunks 🐿 I had totally forgotten about their delightful singing! Best, Babsje
Dramatic photos! Last week, my husband and I visited one of our favorite places, the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, and saw an egret just 10 feet from our car pounce on and capture a mouse, clamping it in its beak, presumably until it died. We didn’t wait around to watch the feasting. Nature is both chilling and amazing.
Thanks for your kind compliment about the dramatic photos. That must have been quite a thing for you to see – an Egret only 10 feet away catching a mouse. I don’t blame you for not sticking around for the final swallowing! My Heron and your Egret must have been pretty hungry to choose mammals for lunch. They’re not on the ordinary menu! Thanks for telling me about your Egret. Best, Babsje
What a surprise, but they are opportunistic, they have to be. I’m sure I’d find it hard to watch, too, as much as I love GBH’s. I love the photo of the heron seen through the reeds. 🙂
Many thanks for your lovely compliment about the Heron in the Reeds. It’s one of my favorites. I was stunned that the Heron captured the hapless Chipmunk. It must have felt odd to have something furry going down that long graceful throat compared to a slippery fish. Glad you like Herons – you must have them in abundance where you are. They’re not quite on that 2022 Pantone palette, though. Best, Babsje
I’ve always loved them…was first acquainted with them in coastal GA, where my grandparents retired, then got to see them more in various places in and around NYC, where I lived for many years. Out here they truly are abundant, with a rookery of almost 700 nests just a few minutes away. Happily, it’s on protected land and no one go there except in the off-season, when the conservancy clears out invasives, counts nests, etc. They’re supposed to have an active webcam next nesting season – hope it works. From the rookery, they spread out over a wide area.
Yes, a stretch to see them matching the 2022 color! A stretch just to think of them as blue sometimes.
I used to love seeing them now and again in a wetland beside a busy highway just north of NYC, in the suburbs. I needed that bit of wildness.
Isn’t it amazing that your rookery has 700 nests? It will be fantastic if they can set up a nestcam in 2022. In years past I enjoyed the one at Sapsucker Woods in Ithaca, NY. I bet it was a real balm for the soul to see them in that suburban wetland near the highway. The big lake here is bisected by 3 busy highways including Interstate 90 and an East-West railroad line for freight, Amtrak and Boston commuter trains and the birds are thoroughly habituated to the sounds and sights of big-time traffic – trains, semis, you name it and yet a small boat makes them skittish sometimes. Go figure. Glad you have a passion for Herons, too. Best, Babsje
It IS amazing how birds acclimate to sounds that seem so loud but may startle at other noises. There’s a Navy base here where electronic warfare aircraft are based. When they practice touch and go landings it’s deafening. Usually, that’s not near our house. If I’m out hiking when they fly overhead the birds pay them no mind. Crazy!
That’s amazing that the birds can be so nonchalant about sounds that we find startling! We have an Army base in the lake but fortunately they don’t have landing space for jets – just helicopters. Bald Eagles and Osprey roost in trees on Army property and they totally ignore the copters just like your birds ignore screaming jets. I wonder if exposure to the high decibels has actually damaged the birds’ hearing and that partly explains their lack of response?
This is one behavior I wouldn’t expect from a species that exclusively fishes. Raptors, yes. GBHs, no. But, if you’re looking at it from a food perspective, I suppose anything is possible.
Thanks David, I was very surprised, myself. The Heron had been foraging and fishing along the shore and then abruptly pivoted facing away from the water and in one lightning move that Chipmunk didn’t stand a chance. I later learned that they will even catch mammals as large as Rabbits. So they’re technically omnivores. Best, Babsje
Het zijn machtig mooie vogels
Hi Marylou. I’m glad you commented that they’re mighty beautiful birds. Thank you! Best, Babsje