The patient hunter

Nothing exemplifies patience better (in the bird world) than herons and egrets fishing.  On a recent morning walk at the marsh at Wood Lake nature center, I spied these statues along the shore.

great white egret fishing

I love the mirror image of this statuesque bird.  Unfortunately, I disturbed its hunting and it flew off.

If they are undisturbed by a photographer’s presence, they will stand, unmoving in a fixed stance, for minutes on end, patiently waiting for the unwary fish or invertebrate to swim by.

great blue heron fishing

I was so far away from this bird that it continued its imitation of a bird statue for 10 minutes while I stood there.

great blue heron fishing

An imperceptible lowering of the bird’s head must mean there is something interesting there, but another 5 minutes went by with the bird in this position with no action. I moved on.

green heron fishing

Further along the marsh shore I spied a juvenile Green Heron repositioning itself on a branch. It assumed the statue stance… while I hid behind a tree to capture what I hope would be some fishing action.

green heron fishing

Sure enough, within a minute of landing, the heron started into its attack stance.

green heron fishing

Another lesson in patience — holding a pose while upside down clinging to a branch. Waiting…waiting…(me with my finger on the shutter, I mean).

green heron fishing

The strike and grab happened in a blink. To make up for my slow trigger finger, I just pressed down on the shutter and rapidly clicked off multiple shots.

green heron fishing

It’s a tiny little fish, but every calorie taken in counts when you’re trying to put on fat to migrate.

green heron fishing

Toss that baby back in the throat, just like you would a much bigger fish.

green heron fishing

And now back to pose number one — the statue impression.

The patient hunter reaps a reward!  Herons and Egrets have an astounding 70% average success rate (# of captures/# of strikes) in both natural and man-made aquatic environments in the southeastern U.S*.  I assume it’s roughly the same up here in the northland.  Great Blue Herons were by far the most successful hunters in estuary habitat, racking up a 93% success rate there.  Great Egrets enjoyed their greatest success along rivers (94%).  Snowy Egrets were almost equally successful in a variety of aquatic habitats (65-75% success) but were not able to match the prey catching efficiency of their larger cousins.

*data from H.D. Mincey, 2006.  MS Thesis, Georgia Southern University.

10 thoughts on “The patient hunter

    • The juvies seem less wary than the adults. But I was pretty well hidden behind the tree, and it would have to look into the sun to see me. But I agree, what I usually see of a green heron is them flying away.

      • Very true about the juvies. Reminds me of the time I was at a lecture/presentation on Purple Martins and a juvie green flew up from the pond to the martin house and perched there. And stayed for five minutes.

    • Yes, the great egrets have alternative foods too. When we were in Puerto Rico last winter I saw them hunting lizards up on the bluff above the ocean.

  1. Great job getting the shots of the green heron. It’s tough to stay attentive when you are waiting and waiting for the strike. It won’t be long before the green herons and egrets leave our area, though the blue herons stay with us for most, if not all of the year.

  2. Pingback: “Cái Cò” | Conglyvasuthat's Blog

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