The Monday Bird of the Week No.4 – Grey Heron

On a trip out to Roundhay Park, a juvenile Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) showed really well for me. So I thought herons merited some attention. Plus, Lynne Caulfield asked me to do them at some point.

Grey Heron (Juvenile), Roundhay Park, Leeds, Nov 2012

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?

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3 Responses to The Monday Bird of the Week No.4 – Grey Heron

  1. James Corner says:

    We regularly have a visiting heron standing on the edge of our garden pond at first light but it always flies off as soon as it detects any movement in the house and I’ve never got a photo, or even had chance for a good look. So your tale of the menacing garden heron was a bit of a surprise for me.

    Similarly in the wild, I’ve always found herons to be incredibly difficult to get close enough to to photograph. I’m really quite envious of your Roundhay Park encounter, or is it that you have an incredibly long telephoto lens?

    • David says:

      I have a reasonably long lens (500mm), but this was as much about an obliging young heron as it was my camera equipment. If you can find somewhere birds get fed fish, there’s a decent chance of getting a good shot of a heron. There are always loads at Chester Zoo near the penguin enclosure!

  2. Pingback: Pike bites off more than it can chew… | Why watch wildlife?

I welcome thoughts, comments and questions, so please feel free to share anything at all. Thanks, David

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