Retirement is having enough time to sit and watch herons feeding! I watched this Grey heron (Ardea cinerea) feeding in a rock pool, at low tide, at Scalby Mills, which is located at the north end of North Bay, Scarborough, North Yorkshire. It had just discovered and picked up a fish – maybe a grey gurnard? It then spent about ten minutes trying to swallow it.
First of all it tried to align it length-ways – head first along the beak – and had a first attempt at swallowing it. For some reason this did not work, so it gripped the fish by its head and placed in down on the seaweed.
Placing the fish on the seaweed (below). It then picked it up very quickly, and performed this operation of trying to swallow it, followed by putting it down again, about three times.
It did not wait long before picking it up again each time (below).
The heron almost seemed to be saying to itself “I can swallow this, I can!”
Eventually, it picked up the fish for the last time – was it waiting for it to die and stop moving? – and aligned it headfirst. But once again it moved the fish about until it was content to have a go at swallowing it. Was this fish approaching the upper size limit for prey items?
Eventually, the heron swallowed the fish. It did this quite quickly and I only just managed to get the money shot of the fish going down!
The heron then stood up and I imagined it gulping the fish down into its stomach.
When I look at herons now, I will always have the unsavory thought of what hapless creature – fish, duckling, crab etc. – has just disappeared down into its belly!
I am an entomologist with a background in quarantine pests and invasive invertebrates. I studied zoology at Imperial College (University of London) and did a PhD on the population dynamics of a cereal aphid (Metopolophium dirhodum) in the UK. I spent 5 years with the British Antarctic Survey studing cold hardiness of Antarctic invertebates and 17 years with the Food and Environment Research Agency. My main interests now are natural history, photography, painting and bird watching.