Heron’s Patience is Rewarded with a Meal

Yesterday I went to Hendrie Valley for a few hours, arriving just before noon. This isn’t typically a good time of day for birding, but my ‘little voice’ kept telling me to go. Since it is nearing the end of the birding season here in Southern Ontario I wasn’t sure if there would be much to photograph. As it turned out I was able to a capture some images of a Great Blue Heron catching a very large catfish. Eventually the heron’s patience was rewarded with a meal.

Since this action happened at a fair distance, the photographs in this article were all subject to some aggressive cropping.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-1100

I had noticed the heron out of the corner of my eye, seeming to struggle with something large in the shallows, so I headed over towards the bridge to investigate.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-1100

My first thought when I saw the size of the catfish that the heron had caught, was that the bird would not be able to swallow such a large fish.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-1250

The catfish was so large that the heron repeatedly dunked the fish back in the water to remove it from its bill. Then with some gusto it continued to spear the catfish numerous times as you will see in the selection of images below.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-1100
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-1100
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-1400
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-1400
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-1100
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-900

This went on for about 20 minutes or so as the heron kept on attacking the wounded fish in order to make sure it was dead before trying to swallow it. On occasion large fish have been known to extend their dorsal fins in an attempt to avoid being swallowed. When this happens the fish can sometimes get stuck in the gullet of a bird. This can cause the bird to suffocate and die.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-800

During the heron’s repeated attacks on the catfish a large egret flew over to investigate. It wisely did not challenge the heron for its prize.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-1400

The heron would periodically hold up the catfish to check for any nervous twitches or signs of life. Once satisfied that its catch was dead, the bird set about to swallow it.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-1100

This ended up to be quite a difficult task as the heron had trouble getting the large fish properly aligned in a head-first position. After repeated attempts, and continued dunkings of the fish to lubricate it, the heron was able to swallow it whole as you can see in the images that follow.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-1100
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-1000
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-1000
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-900
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-1000
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-1100
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-1100
Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-1100

After getting the catfish into its gullet, the heron had to extend its neck to help the fish continue its journey into the bird’s stomach.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-1100

The entire process of catching, killing and swallowing the catfish was quite time consuming for the heron. I checked the times on my photographs and from the time of the first image I captured of this heron with the catfish, through to the last image above, a total of 32 minutes had elapsed.

Luckily I had changed the battery in my Nikon 1 V3 a little while before all of this action happened. What did concern me was how much room was left on my memory card. The last thing I wanted to risk was to be in the middle of changing a memory card in my V3, and have the heron swallow the catfish. After quickly checking on the number of images on my card, I decided not to shoot any AF-C runs towards the end of this event, taking individual frames instead. This helped to ensure I could capture the critical moments at the end of this example of nature playing out before my eyes.

Technical Note:
All photographs were captured hand-held in available light using Nikon 1 gear as per the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process of DxO OpticsPro or PhotoLab, CS6 and the Nik Collection.

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6 thoughts on “Heron’s Patience is Rewarded with a Meal”

    1. Thanks Vern – glad you enjoyed the image series! All of us who were watching and photographing the heron were all wondering if the bird could actually get it down. To a person, we were all amazed.
      Tom

  1. Amazing sequence. I admit to being relieved when the catfish was down.

    Tom, I still can’t donate using a US Visa card because when I get to Province, and insert my US zip code, it will not accept it. I could mail you a check if I had your mailing address.

    1. Hi Pam,

      I was also relieved when the heron actually swallowed that fish as well! I was amazed that it could actually swallow it.

      As far as making a donation goes…
      After you click on the Donate button, you should then select “pay with a credit card” that will open up a new menu. After that you will need to click on the faint down arrow next to “Canada”, this will open up a menu of various countries. You can then select United States, and all of the relevant details will then appear.

      Tom

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