Great Blue Heron

Wouldn’t it be nice if all birds could be friends? But that’s not how it is in nature. Crows rob the nests of songbirds, cowbirds lay eggs in the nests of other birds and then fly off, knowing the surrogate mother will bring up the cowbird baby that will crowd out the original nestlings. Owls and hawks will kill other smaller birds. “World bird peace” is pretty much hopeless.

Two of the larger birds, great blue herons and bald eagles, live side by side on the west coast of British Columbia. You rarely see bald eagles killing a heron, but it does happen. Turkey vultures, crows, ravens, black bears, and raccoons are all nest robbers that will clean out a heron’s nest. Eagles will do the same but they also predate on great blue herons in every stage of the heron’s life. The eagle has great grasping talons and a beak made for tearing flesh, so what chance does a heron have?

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Photo, courtesy of Ken Thorne.

Many years ago, I saw how herons escape from eagles. While living on the Queen Charlotte Islands, I was standing in my backyard one day when I heard the croaking call of a heron in a tall tree nearby. An eagle flew in and the heron lifted off. I thought the heron would fly away as the eagle went after him, but instead, the heron reached up with both of his wide-spread wings and pumped air downwards. He flew higher and higher in a tight circle going almost straight up.

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The eagle also pumped his wings and pursued the heron, circling higher and higher after him. The heron went so high that he was a mere speck in the sky. Many meters below him, the eagle soared in circles but was no longer gaining in altitude. I think he had gone as high as he was able. The two birds circled at their respective heights for several minutes, and at last the eagle gave up and flew away. The heron came down after a while, to go about his business for another day.

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The great blue heron is the ultimate stalker. He is patient beyond belief, and will stand absolutely still for so long that you might wonder if he is alive. Then he moves one leg up out of the water and hesitates. After a moment he puts the leg down, just a little closer to the fish or frog he is stalking. His folded up neck reminds me of a boxer holding his fist close to his chest, ready to fling out his arm to throw a punch at the right second. The heron’s sharp grabbing beak is his weapon for securing his dinner. His patience usually pays off and he scores a snack for his dinner.

I saw this fellow today at the shore below my house. I also took the picture of the eagle soaring over the trees beside my house today.  I sure hope these two can keep out of each other’s way and both settle for a meal of fish instead.

40 thoughts on “Great Blue Heron

  1. You are such a great naturalist, Anneli! I learn things and I treasure the birds here. The eagle and the Great Blue Heron, which I have never seen this kind with a beard of feathers. 🙂
    I hope they will feast on fish and maybe mice for the eagle. Hugs, Robin
    ps. Do you mean eagles “prey?” Did your silly spellcheck change this to “predate?” Is this part of “predator?” I am a person who likes learning new words and uses. Thank you for humoring me.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s interesting, Robin. Usually I say they prey on something but you can also say predate as in the word predator. Oxford says, for predate: “(Of an animal) act as a predator of; catch and eat (prey).”
      Either is okay, I think. Probably “prey” is more often used.

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  2. An interesting write up!! And isn’t this the very proof that world peace is a unreal dream? Even the substances of nature are made unlike …because maybe this was what was meant to be. Some were made to hunt and the others to get hunted.
    So Darwin’s theory rocks …survival of the fittest !

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    • I have to admit that as I wrote about the birds preying on each other, I was thinking how much they were like peoples of the world in their “tribes” and various cultures. I would hope though, that people are smarter than animals and were given the benefit of having the capacity for compassion and empathy. Yes, I agree with you about Darwin and survival of the fittest, but maybe humans can make room for all of its “kinds” and try to work together. I hope so anyway.

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  3. You got a good picture of the heron! They have left here for the winter, but the eagles are still here in abundance. There were two in the pines in my front yard today talking loudly back and forth. I think I’ve seen more this winter than in the summer!

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  4. This is fascinating. Just yesterday, a Great Blue was atop a boat shed in the marina where I was working: higher than any mast. He wasn’t doing a thing but hanging around, until an osprey came zooming in like an F-16, and took on that heron. He made about three runs at it until the heron decided to depart, and that osprey ran him right out of the marina. Then, the osprey came back, and perched atop a mast.

    I was amazed, and wondered, too, if the osprey wasn’t set off by another bird being higher than he was. A Great Blue wading in the water is usual. One at eye level may have seemed a threat.

    As for Darwin and compassion and all that: the simple fact is, everyone has to eat. I’m not fond of seeing gars and seagulls and assorted other predators take out baby ducks, for example. But, the other side of that coin is, if they didn’t, we’d be up to our hips in ducks. It’s one reason deer hunting’s so important here right now. If the whitetail herds aren’t culled, some will starve.

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    • Where on earth did you get so much common sense? It is becoming a rare commodity in many urban areas. You are so right about the hunting. People tend to confuse gun-toting murderers of humans with hunters who are continuing a tradition from the days of early man, when a person had to kill an animal to survive. I don’t like to see any animal killed or hurt, but I know that like animals who kill each other for food, we have to make that steak or drumstick be dead before we eat it. Done right, a balance is maintained.

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  5. I lived in a similar natural environment for fifteen years and often miss the kind of interactions as you describe here. We did have beautiful herons, but not bald eagles. Your posts and photos bring back poignant memories. Thanks!

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  6. We had a couple of blue herons onour creek for thelast few years. I haven´t seen them this winter yet. “Ours” don´t have beards. Beautiful pictures!

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  7. We have both birds here in northern Illinois, but I’ve never seen an interaction like you described! Have to keep my eyes open. We humans have a bad habit of trying to organize nature. Nature is messy and always will be. 🙂

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    • Most of the time we don’t see a lot of the interaction between animals (birds), but keeping eyes open helps. When I have a camera in my hand i’m looking for things and maybe it has become a habit to pay attention to nature.

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  8. Pretty cool that not only did you witness what you shared here with these great photos, but also at another time, that heron escaping the eagle.

    I hope you don’t mind if I share a story of what I witnessed in Florida. As you know, the bird wildlife there is very active. One time my friend and I went for a walk and stopped at a lake to soak up the nature around us. While marveling at the beauty, a hawk swooped down and tried to snatch one of many baby ducklings following their mom. To our surprise, a mix of different birds came barreling in to save the ducklings and chase the hawk away. I was shocked to see other birds try to save them. It was like a children’s book unfolding before my eyes. I can’t remember what types of birds they were, but there were different kinds. Very likely one was an egret, since there were a lot of those there.

    Anyway, the hawk perched itself on a nearby tree and eyed those ducklings for a bit. The mom tried to hide them under some brush, but there wasn’t a lot there to hide under. In the mean time, those birds who saved the ducklings stayed near the water’s edge like guards. My friend and I watched for about an hour, until the hawk finally left it’s perch and flew away.

    I’ll never forget that, because I never imagined birds saving one another. Nature is so unpredictable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good story, Lori. Thanks for sharing that. I’ve seen something like that (and made a blog post about it at the time) but in this case, the other birds were too late. The hawk had already killed the bird. The post was called “It’s Just Lunch” and I said, “The songbirds set up the alarm in the whole mini forest around my yard. A chickadee and a nuthatch, both tiny birds who are often chosen by the falcons as appetizers, bravely sat on the branch directly behind the merlin, scolding her.”
      I really was amazed to see how brave the songbirds were when they were trying to get the hunter out of their midst. I’m glad you saw it too in your own setting.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I was so glad to see the little duckling saved. I think I might’ve cried had the hawk gotten one. I know, I know, that’s nature, and I’d have gotten over it quickly.

        I didn’t realize that wildlife fought for each other like that. I thought what I witnessed was a freak thing. Thanks for telling me about your experience, as now I know it must be natural for them. Very cool.

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  9. The beauty of birds belies their predatory nature. I made a mistake of watching a ‘Nature’ channel on TV. What the birds did to each other, and the nests of the other, depressed me the rest of the night. But, yes, that’s Nature for you. I still love watching these great birds, though. Your photos are incredible.

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    • Birds and other animals suffer some horrible things in the wild. I think that because we don’t see most of what goes on, we think that “everything is beautiful.” The reality is almost too much for us to bear when we are confronted with some of the situations that are just a matter of course for many animals – especially the sick or the weak. No compassion from predators there. Still, the beautiful side of it, by far, outweighs the ugly side. That’s why I keep searching out animals and birds to photograph for my blog. Thanks for sharing your views, Pam. I so agree.

      Liked by 1 person

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