Today I’m excited to share some photographs I captured recently of Great Blue Herons at the Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma. The series of images feature these large wading birds tossing small fish up in the air and catching them in their long, sharp beaks.

Great Blue Heron's Fishing Technique

Great Blue Heron’s Fishing Technique

A Fascinating Hunting Technique

It’s a fascinating hunting technique these herons have evolved, serving multiple purposes for the bird. By tossing the fish up, they can align it for a more accurate, efficient catch. The behavior also helps remove scales or unwanted parts before swallowing the nutritious portions of the prey. And it allows the heron to reposition the fish head-first for easier swallowing and digestion.

Great Blue Heron Tossing Fish Back

Great Blue Heron Tossing Fish Back

Capturing the Behavior in Action

I was fortunate enough to observe and photograph three separate instances of Great Blue Herons employing this remarkable fish-tossing behavior along the wetlands of the refuge. The birds were hunting in shallow waters, stabbing at fish swimming by, then flinging them upwards and catching them on the way down. Their precision and skill at this feeding technique was incredible to witness.

Great Blue Heron Tossing Its Prey

Great Blue Heron Tossing Its Prey

Appreciating the Wonders of Nature

As a nature photographer, I live for moments like this – observing unique animal behaviors in their natural habitats and capturing it with my camera. Great Blue Herons are such graceful and stunning birds, and watching them exhibit this purposeful hunting adaptation was a treat. I’m thrilled to have photographed this heron feeding technique in action and be able to share it now with others who appreciate the wonders of the natural world.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve observed this fish-tossing behavior before in herons or other birds!

Here are a few additional thoughts on this fascinating hunting technique:

  • It may help immobilize or disorient the fish, making it easier for the heron to swallow. The abrupt motion of being tossed and caught could stun or incapacitate the fish.
  • It allows the heron to readjust its grip and positioning of the fish in its beak. The toss gives it a chance to secure the optimal hold for swallowing.
  • There could be a cleaning element as well. The action of tossing the fish may help dislodge excess water, debris, or aquatic vegetation from the fish’s body.
  • From an energy perspective, the effort put into the toss may be paid back by the ease of swallowing and digesting a properly positioned fish. It optimizes the process.

So in summary, this unique technique seems to serve multiple purposes for the Great Blue Heron, from improving aim and catching ability to cleaning, orienting, and controlling the prey for optimal consumption. It’s a remarkable example of the clever adaptations these majestic birds have developed.

Image Information (First Image):

  • Date: 5/31/23
  • Time: 6:54 AM
  • Camera: Canon EOS R5
  • Lens: Canon RF 100-500 mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM
  • ISO: 5000
  • Aperture: 8
  • Shutter: 1/1600
  • Exp. Comp.: 0
  • Lens (mm): 500
  • Program Mode: Manual

Related Post:

  1. Great Blue Heron Unique Fishing Method