Herons and Egrets

Herons, egrets and bitterns are long-legged freshwater and coastal birds in the family Ardeidae.

September 27, 2016 | | Notes from the Wild

Great egret

Great egret

I have a friend who grew up traipsing the hills and dells of his native Scotland. There, he tells me, he learned to “tickle” trout. He’d reach into a tumbling brook and feel for trout hiding in the shelter of an undercut bank. Upon finding one he’d grab it and toss it onto terra firma.

Maybe I’ve been had – a victim of Ian’s playful humour and his skill at spinning tall tales. But he swears his story is true.

Impressive, but equally so is how some birds catch fish using nothing but their beaks.

This amazes me. Fish move like greased lightning, their colour blends seamlessly into the mud and gravel of stream and lake beds, and they are slippery. And yet herons and egrets wield their beaks with surgical precision to catch them. If you think this unremarkable, try catching a fish with a pair of long-nosed pliers, the pliers approximating the shape and utility of a heron beak.

Pretend that your life depends on successfully landing a fish in this manner, as it certainly does for a heron. I suspect that despite the urgency of the hunt, you would go hungry.

Herons though, are so adept at using their long-nosed plier beaks to catch fish that they thrive wherever we have had the wisdom to preserve their wetland habitats.

We have four species of these fish-catching specialists in the Headwaters region. Anyone with a passing interest in nature, knows the impressive great blue heron. Crow-sized green herons are also common. Great egrets – brilliantly white – pass through on migration to and from their colonies in the Georgian Bay area, and black-crowned night herons are occasional visitors.

Catch a trout with bare hands? How about catching them with no hands at all, something herons and egrets do masterfully, every day.

greenheron greenheronfishing black-crownednightheronimmature black-crownednightheronadult greatblueheron great-blue-heron-note-downward-orientation-of-eyes
Great blue heron, note downward orientation of the eyes

About the Author More by Don Scallen

Don Scallen enjoys sharing his love of nature through his writing and presentations. Check out his blog "Notes from the Wild".

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Herons and Egrets

Sep 27, 2016 | Don Scallen | Notes from the Wild

Herons, egrets and bitterns are long-legged freshwater and coastal birds in the family Ardeidae.

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