Wildlife Wednesday-Great Blue Beauty

 

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“Creativity is the Blue Heron within us waiting to fly; through her imagination, all things become possible.”  ~Nadia Janice Brown

 

 

This September we had a rare visitor in our neighbor’s meadow just beyond our back fence; a Great Blue Heron.  This tall, stealthy specimen was spotted by a us wandering the meadow grasses, bushes and cattails.  Tall and spindly, I often wonder how it moves so easily.  Slowly, almost a statue it waits patiently, but for what?

There are no ponds close to the meadow.  Farther into the woods in a clearing there is a pond, and in our garden over the DSCN4171fence another pond where we have spied a heron or two in the 9 years we have lived here.  But we have never seen a heron roaming a dry grassy area.

Of course I was intrigued and continued to watch this bird.  Maybe he was taking a break from a long flight.  A bit of respite before he was off again flying to his southern home.  He continued to watch the boundaries of the meadow, its grass cut short.  He approached the tall bushes and wild spots along the edge and stopped.  Then moved on further down the perimeter, and finally stopped again.  Suddenly he bent over low and -SNAP!  He struck something like a lightning bolt; quick, precise.

DSCN4187As he carefully backed up and turned I saw he had a small mammal most likely a rabbit.  I had never heard of herons hunting mammals.  Fish and amphibians, of course, but mammals no.  And if you have seen herons fishing, you know their beaks are sword-like, stabbing their prey.  Unfortunately, with mammals, they also shake and throw down their prey and stab it until they are sure it is dead.

Now the fox hunting and killing the rabbit, that I wrote about in a prior post was upsetting, but I have to say watching the heron hunt made me queasy.  He was brutal and merciless something I did not expect.  And when he was sure his prey was dead, he carried it off and ate it thankfully out of sight.

DSCN4402I was sure he would be gone, but he came back out into the meadow and continued his hunt capturing a vole this time which he quickly gulped down that long throat.  Eventually he moved out of sight still hunting, and after almost two hours he flew off to parts unknown.

But he returned for many days during a two week period continuing his hunting.  Chasing squirrels and birds.  Rambling about the backyards nearby.  He has since moved on, but I have spied other herons still flying overhead, maybe our heron.  Sometimes they will stay the winter, signaling a milder winter.  Maybe this year we will see them around more.  I can only hope.

 

 

 

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Some Interesting Facts and Folklore About Great Blue Herons:

  • They can hunt day and night, thanks to the photoreceptors in their eyes that improve their night vision.
  • Even though they are a very large bird, they only weigh 5 to 6 pounds due to their hollow bones.
  • They live and hunt in both freshwater and saltwater.
  • And they will hunt in grasslands and fields stalking just about anything within striking distance.
  • In China, the heron represents strength, purity, and long life; to Native Americans, it signifies wisdom.
  • In both Africa and Greece, it’s believed to be a messenger from the gods.
  • Indian folklore says that if a heron perches on your house, you will have good luck.  I’d like to see that!DSCN4378
  • Herons are considered the bird of the goddess and have been associated with the Greek goddess, Athena.

 

 

With this wildlife story, I am joining in the meme Wildlife Wednesday hosted by Tina@My Gardener Says that happens the first Wednesday of every month, and with Saturday’s Critters hosted by Eileen@Viewing nature with Eileen that happens every Saturday.  Please check them both out.

 

 

 

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“If you were silent
Flight of herons on dark sky
Oh! Autumn snowflakes!”
― Sokan, Japanese Haiku

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Next up on the blog:  

Monday, I will have another Tree Following post.  And Wednesday I will bring a final review of the veg garden and thoughts for next year’s veg garden.

I am linking in with Michelle for her Nature Notes meme at her new blog just for Nature Notes.  It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every Tuesday. 

104 comments

  1. Nadezda says:

    Wow, Donna what a large blue beauty! Lovely heron, although I’ve seen it only once on a river and I remember it was bigger other birds there. I did not know heron can hunt night as well as a day.
    Have a nice week!

  2. Beth C says:

    I tend to be more like a hummingbird, but secretly wish I was more like the Great Blue. Which for the record is my favorite bird. Now that I know they are “fierce”, determined and relentless changes my allegiance!

    • Donna says:

      I love that perspective Beth…I don’t know if I have a favorite bird but I do have a special spot for the cheerful wren and the beautifully colored bluebirds.

  3. Karin/Southern Meadows says:

    I really had no idea that they ate rodents. I guess since I usually see them by water I assumed they only ate fish and other aquatic animals. Shows my ignorance! I did see one of these beauties perched on the roof of a greenhouse at our local botanical garden a few years ago. Now I know that it was a sign of luck!

  4. Cathy says:

    Great shots Donna! We see grey herons here. They stand in the fields near the river and catch frogs, mice etc. Sometimes they stand in the same position for so long I wonder if they are having a doze! A vole or rabbit would be a real feast. Quite scary really. Thanks for sharing!

    • Donna says:

      I often wondered the same thing about our herons Cathy…maybe they sleep standing…then suddenly they move and strike. I think he was having quite the feast in the meadow!

  5. Tina says:

    The heron is beautiful, so beautiful. And, it’s gotta eat, so I suppose no niceties there. I think you’re very fortunate to catch a glimpse of this fact of wild-life. Great wildlife happening and viewing. Thanks for sharing and for participating in Wildlife Wednesday.

    • Donna says:

      I agree I am very fortunate to see the wildlife here Tina. And your meme is a great way to share the stories…and as you say the heron has to eat too.

  6. Laura @ Raise Your Garden says:

    I was surprised at the way you described the Heron stalking and eating his prey, but then again, he’s got to eat to. Still, I don’t think of birds as hunters like that. My cat is a great hunter as well, and although him hunting mice in the basement makes me quesy to, I support him!

  7. Chloris says:

    Well, I have learnt something today. I thought that they only eat fish. I have one regularly in my garden, specially in Winter. I have put plant pots all round my pond which stops them, because they like to be able to wade in. If I move a pot and he finds a way in, he will eat my goldfish. I can always see if he has been there because he leaves an oily film on the surface and a few feathers. The remaining goldfish lurk around under the water lily pads and the pond weed afterwards, and you don’ t see them for weeks. They are beautiful birds, I always think that they look prehistoric.

  8. Kathy Sturr of the Violet Fern says:

    I love these birds! They are common here along the St. Lawrence River. I will never forget a young Osprey (who must have been quite hungry) attempting to attack one of these Herons. The squawks of anger that Heron made were nail biting! Needless to say, the Osprey moved on. Where we stay on Grindstone Island there is a Heron that hunts on the little islands just off shore. I never tire of watching him/her.

  9. austinagrodolce says:

    Great images of this majestic bird. Like others, I had no idea they ate small mammals as well as fish/amphibians. I suppose it ought not be surprising that a bird of such size would be more an equal opportunity hunter.

    Earlier this year I witnessed a wren repeatedly stabbing then eating a small lizard. It was unnerving in a way that watching them eat bugs never had been. That dinosaurs evolved into birds was a lot easier to accept after that!

    • Donna says:

      Deb I love the reminder that birds descended from dinosaurs. You can certainly see the similarities with the heron. I have never seen a wren eat anything but bugs here but we have so few lizards…and they are not to be messed with either.

  10. Julie says:

    Really great photos Donna, that must of been quite an exciting encounter and every photo tells part of the story too. Native Grey Herons are common here all year round as we are near water, but I have never seen one hunt anything but fish, I wonder if thats something specific to your Blue Herons.

  11. Florence says:

    Well my goodness, I learned something today! I have lived on the Texas Gulf Coast almost all my life and see Great Blue Herons frequently but I never knew that they hunted mammals in a field! Thanks for sharing the beautiful photos too.

  12. Dee Nash says:

    Nature can be awfully cruel, can’t it? What an interesting sight to behold even if it was queasy-stomach producing. You are such a great recorder of detail. I wish I were more observant.~~Dee

  13. Michelle RW says:

    Yes, they do take small mammals, ducklings, goslings..anything they can get which is why the ducks and geese chase them off….Great catches..sorry as I feel for the prey item…Michelle

  14. susan troccolo says:

    I was very excited to read your post because we had a great blue on our roof for the majority of one day two years back. He was quite majestic! Blue Herons are the city bird for Portland, Oregon, so I wasn’t surprised to see him, but was certainly surprised and pleased to have him perch on our roof for so long. Unfortunately, I missed the moment when he took flight–I would have love to have seen that. According to your post, this is quite an auspicious sign for us. I’ll pass it along with pleasure-:)) I think they look like Jeeves, the Butler!

    • Donna says:

      I love that Susie…looks like Jeeves. I agree. And how lucky to have one perching on your roof. And a city bird…a great choice!

  15. Beth @ PlantPostings says:

    What a wonderful visitor! We see them around here frequently, too, but we’ve never had one in our backyard. I like the capture behind the cattails–it looks like the Heron is trying to hide. 😉

  16. Aaron Dalton says:

    Great post.

    And yes, as another commentator mentioned, the heron hunting the mammals did make me think of dinosaurs.

    Who needs to go see Jurassic Park in a theater when you’ve got a dinosaur relative in your backyard!

    • Donna says:

      I agree, I have a better view than I could see in any movie. I saw that movie once by mistake and never again. I screamed and jumped so much, another patron was having a good laugh at my expense!

      • Aaron Dalton says:

        I remember seeing the original in the theater.

        One of the things I remember most was the incredible sound design. It sounded like the dinosaurs were all around you and the volume of the tyrannosaur in particular was incredible!

        Sounds like you got your workout watching the movie 🙂

  17. Janet/Plantaliscious says:

    What a beautiful looking bird, though clearly a serious hunter too. I knew they ate frogs and toads, but I’m surprised that they eat voles and other small mammals. Makes sense, I suppose, but somehow disconcerting in a way an owl’s diet isn’t. Maybe its the stabbing with the beak!

  18. Rose says:

    This is so interesting, Donna. I’ve never seen a heron around here, and I had no idea that they would hunt mammals. I thought they lived mostly around water and ate only fish. I don’t think I would want to watch one eat a rabbit either!

  19. Island Threads says:

    wow, thanks for sharing Donna, it is a beautiful bird and I find herons interesting to watch, I think nature is quite cruel when it comes to how animals kill their prey, I accept it as nature, birds tend to be very light though I didn’t know they had hollow bones, I assumed they are light due to being easier to fly, Frances

  20. Eileen says:

    Hello Donna, awesome post. They are great at hunting.. I have seen one eating a long snake.. Awesome photos. Thank you so much for linking up! Have a happy weekend!

    • Donna says:

      That must of been an amazing sight Eileen. I think the snakes were holed up in their dens by the time he came by the meadow, but that would be a sight to see.

  21. Laura Bloomsbury says:

    I’d associatied heron as fishers & snake catchers but never hunters of the furry mammal so thanks for the wildlife lesson Donna – accompanied by some striking shots. Living in an enviromenal zone you get to see nature as nature intended – could be good news for controlling garden pests too like those critters that burrow under your plants!

  22. Cathy Thompson says:

    As everyone else says, I didn’t know they ate small mammals. We sometimes see them flying low over the river here (they wouldn’t come up to the garden, not their kind of place). I always find it exciting to see the way they hunt. And they are your friends if they are eating the wretched voles! Maybe I need a pond up here to tempt them so they’ll catch our voles too!

    • Donna says:

      I wish they hunted the voles more here…our gardens back up to a wild area so it is a blessing some days with the hunting herons and a curse with the browsing deer although we do love the deer.

  23. Pat says:

    A large and beautiful hunter. I’m glad to see that he finds food, but I wouldn’t want to watch the gruesome process of killing its prey.

  24. Marie-AZ says:

    It’s always so difficult for us to see wildlife killing their prey, because to us the predator and the prey are equally wonderful and we want them both to live. Thankfully predator animals don’t have such sensitivities, or they would starve. But we people have big hearts! Anyway, I’ve never heard of a heron catching and eating a vole…that was so interesting. You always think, just fish and frogs and lizards are their prey! Nice post (and the fox one as well!)

    • Donna says:

      I agree Marie we do love the critters so it is hard to see one as prey. Glad you enjoyed both critter posts even though they had a similar hunting theme which can be hard to hear.

  25. debsgarden says:

    Fantastic shots of a regal bird! I have seen great blue herons on rare occasions at a lake nearby. I had no idea they ate mammals. Please tell your heron to come my way. We have plenty of voles and chipmunks for him!

    • Donna says:

      Maybe you can entice some nearby but if I see him I’ll ask him to let his relative your way know of the buffet in your garden Deb.

  26. nicole says:

    What a treat to see this beauty!! And your photos are fantastic!! I loved learning a bit more about herons!! Hoping it does bring you good luck this season friend! Happy weekend! Nicole xo

  27. Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti says:

    I would see blue herons at time sin the salt marsh areas in Southern Brooklyn, NY where I previously lived. The are such giant birds, aren’t they? They like to fish in the waters there. I never knew they also hunted small rodents and other birds. Very interesting facts and photos for this magnificent bird! I hope his visit does bring you good fortune!

  28. Ginnie says:

    What I most love about this post, Donna, is that I know exactly what/who you’re talking about this time!!! We see at least one heron out in the Dutch polder almost every time we’re driving out-n-about. However, usually they’re FAR AWAY and never close enough to get good pics. My 1200mm lens will sometimes give me a good capture, for which I’m thankful. I especially love hearing more here about what it signifies. What a beautiful specimen from Mother Nature!

    • Donna says:

      Well I am happy you can relate Ginnie with your amazing herons there. They are hard to capture. I wish I could have caught him flying too!

  29. craftygreenpoet says:

    Great photos – what a long neck that heron’s got! I had never thought herons hunted mammals until recently one was spotted catching a rat on our local river (our herons are grey herons, but look quite similar to your great blue)

    • Donna says:

      I have seen a few pictures of your gray herons and they do look similar. The blue heron’s neck is really quite fascinating as they can curl it right up and hunker down to half their height.

  30. Lavender Dreams says:

    What wonderful posts. These birds are so elegant and strike a pose for the camera. I’ve got a bird post I’m working on for Thursday. I would love for you to stop by and give me your opinion. It was a rare sighting here in Florida! Hugs, Diane

  31. Indie says:

    I remember seeing a video just a couple months ago about a Heron catching Prairie dogs or something like that. Herons are so beautiful. What a sight! I would be a little queasy, too, watching him catch a rabbit. I would probably be celebrating when it caught a vole, though!

    • Donna says:

      Wow I bet that was some video Indie. The vole does not bother me as much but I think the whole process is just a bit unsettling as I was not accustomed to see the brutality of a kill or even expecting it from the heron.

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