While reviewing the footage I captured of a Great Blue Heron at the Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma, I noticed something peculiar. After skillfully catching a fish in the water, the heron briefly held the fish in its bill before suddenly releasing it back into the water. This seemed unusual, as herons typically swallow their prey whole immediately after catching it.

Upon closer inspection, I believe the heron released the fish because it simply wasn’t hungry enough to commit to swallowing it right away. Great Blue Herons can regulate their food intake based on their satiation levels. Even though it successfully caught the fish, the heron may have released it back into the water if it was not feeling motivated to eat in that moment. Allowing the fish to escape would prevent the heron from forcing itself to swallow an unnecessary meal when it was already energetically satisfied.

Observing this behavior was a good reminder that predators do not always consume prey immediately, even when presented with the opportunity. The Great Blue Heron adapted wisely by releasing prey when not motivated by hunger, rather than expending effort to eat unneeded food. Paying attention to even small moments like this in the field can provide valuable insight into animal behavior.

Great Blue Heron Being Picky

I was parked near an area known as Miner’s Cove (Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge).

Gear Used:

  • Camera: Canon EOS R5
  • Lens: Canon EF 800 mm f/11