Great Blue Heron Interspecies Aggression

On Labour Day (Sept 3) I took some time out of my schedule to visit the Hendrie Valley Sanctuary to do some bird photography. As I studied various species of birds I decided to move closer to a great blue heron and a group of Canada geese. This short article shares some images of great blue heron interspecies aggression.

As the heron was fishing it seemed oblivious of a group of about 6-8 Canada geese. The heron drew increasingly closer to the geese while it was fishing, which elicited some threat displays from the geese. These included the geese lowering their heads and necks, sticking out their tongues and hissing at the heron. Two of the geese went closer to the heron, resulting in it doing a short jump up onto a concrete dock to avoid them.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-500

The geese continued with their threats and hissing which stimulated a response from the heron as it jumped back into the water to confront the geese.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-560

Although it was outnumbered at least 6 to 1 by the geese, the great blue heron went into its own aggressive response, spreading its wings and puffing out its crown feathers.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-500

After moving a couple of the geese away, the heron turned to face the balance of the group, ramping up its display of aggressiveness by puffing out its neck feathers.

In the series of 21 consecutive images that follow, you’ll see the heron stride directly into the group of geese and attempt to attack one as it takes flight. By the end of the run you’ll also notice that a few of the geese have stopped their individual shows of aggressiveness by drawing their tongues back in.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-400
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-400
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-400
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-400
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-400
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-400
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-560
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-560
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-560
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-500
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-500
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-500
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-400
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-400
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-400
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-400
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-400
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-400
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-400
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-400
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-450

In the next run of 7 consecutive images you’ll see the heron then turn to its right and go after the next closest goose, causing it to take flight to escape. You’ll notice that the heron has lowered its crown and neck feathers from attack mode, and is now showing a sign of aggression with it outstretched wings.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-400
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-400
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-400
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-400
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-400
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-450
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-450

Almost immediately after this second show of aggressiveness the group of Canada geese quickly left the area, allowing the great blue heron to continue with its fishing as seen in the image below.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 mm @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-640

When we are out photographing nature we never know what fleeting opportunities will be presented to us. Sometimes all we have time to do is acquire focus and frame the scene as best we can before the opportunity is gone. When we do that successfully, at a minimum, we have captured a memory of the behaviour we have observed.

Technical Note:
All photographs were captured hand-held in available light as per the EXIF data. I shot in Manual mode, using Continuous Auto-Focus (AF-C) with subject tracking at 20 frames per second, and Auto-ISO 160-6400. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process of DxO PhotoLab, CS6 and the Nik Collection.

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