You may remember my teaser photo of this Great Blue Heron eating a fish a couple weeks ago, where I showed you the close-up view of the fish’s eye as it entered the mouth of the heron. This one:
Well here’s a series of pics showing the process of catching the fish and managing to get it down the throat. I’m always amazed at how deftly they manage to handle a slippery fish with no hands. Enjoy! (I’m making some assumptions about behavior here, so keep that in mind as you read my notes.)
So he grabs the fish and pulls it out of the water, immediately turning to the shore so it won’t be able to swim away if he drops it. (Click on any picture to see it larger, and I apologize that these pics aren’t very sharp — I had to crop them all.)
It’s still alive at this point, so I think he’s laying it down so he can deliver the killing blow.
Yep, that ought to do it. But, hmm, now it’s got dirt all over it. What to do, what to do?
Oh, I know…I’ll wash it off. (It could also be that he needs it to be wet to facilitate swallowing. I’m not sure how important it is to “wash” it.)
I always think it’s so cool how you can see the outline of the entire fish in the heron’s throat! I don’t know much about fish, but I think this might be a white bass…I looked in my new Kaufman Field Guide to Nature of the Midwest and that was the closest match I could find there, based on the broken stripes on its sides and the shape of the fins.
I learned something really interesting about the Great Blue Heron today. Not only do they eat fish, but also sometimes amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals. And, here’s the cool part: They expel pellets of indigestible mammal hair, just like owls do! Did you know that? Apparently they can digest the bones, unlike owls, who expel bones in their pellets along with hair. I only learned a couple years ago that these pellets are expelled through the mouth rather than the other end of the body. I guess I never really thought about it much, until the day I saw a captive Northern Saw-whet Owl regurgitate a pellet right in front of me at an Audubon event. Fascinating stuff, isn’t it?