There’s something that looks ‘prehistoric’ about Grey Herons. While other herons, like egrets, bitterns, look elegant and attractive, the Grey looks imposing, striking, and fierce.
But I’ve always been a fan of the herons, they are magnificent in flight, with their huge looping steady wingbeat. They are amazing to watch when hunting fish too, standing patiently, waiting for something to swim too close before they strike.
The strike response can get them in trouble. They’ll take on prey that is too big for them, and can choke as a result. I once watched a Grey Heron take on an eel for 20 minutes, fighting to get it down its gullet. At one point the eel was wrapped round the heron’s neck, while it’s head was down the throat, running the risk of both choking. Eventually, the heron got it down. It immediately went for more prey!
But it’s not just a mindless auto-strike. They can use cunning to hunt too. They will use bait to draw fish in. They will use feathers, much like a fly-fisherman. They will use their wings to create a patch of shade on a sunny day, which also draws fish. So there is real learned behaviour there.
They are surely the bane of anyone with a garden pond though. Visiting friends a couple of years back, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. There by their pond was the biggest heron I’ve ever seen, merrily consuming some pretty sizeable fish. When we got outside, this beast of a bird simply flew up the garden, and stood there, challenging us to mess with it. With that lethal dagger of a bill, and the fierce yellow eye, it’s not hard to be scared off!
Have you had any great heron encounters?