Chinese Pond-heron (Photo by my brother!)
Quite a while ago, I was out on a rowboat in a lake. Not just any lake: a deep, muck-filled, clam-chocked brown-water lake that many people were swimming and fishing in. Personally, I don't like swimming in muddy, murky lakes but apparently those people did.
As I was rowing out, I spotted some white birds far off wheeling in the air that looked suspiciously like terns. They were hovering and grabbing for fish like a tern would do, except something was very amiss about their behavior. The white birds lacked the powerful grace of a tern, blundering and flapping down slowly to the water like an elephant with wings would. And they snatched fish from the surface.
No self-respecting tern would ever try to catch fish like they did.
They turned out to be Black-crowned Night-herons.
Initially, I was astonished but after exactly 53 seconds, I thought to myself, "What's new about herons doing that? Ardeidae are SMART and ADAPTABLE! Remember that viral video on YouTube?"
(Ardeidae is a family of clunky adorable ninja birds that includes herons, egrets, and bittern.
Pronounced AR-DIE-DAY, or maybe AR-DI-A-DA, or whatever. Who knows how to pronounce those names anyway?)
Maybe you remember that viral video on YouTube where a Green Heron used bread to lure and devour unsuspecting little fish.
As it turns out, in their maddening efforts to get enough fishy food to constitute a decent meal, Ardeidae (herons, bitterns, egrets) are surprisingly clever.
This guy sat like this for hours. I'm shocked that he/she doesn't have serious back and neck cramps yet.
Above photo: Sometimes a egret or heron will sit with half of their beak open in the water and close it when it touches something, like a stationary skimmer. Most of the time, they get a minnow or two. The unfortunate ones get serious back problems.
Other methods Ardeidae commonly use:
Really impatient Ardeidae, like the Reddish Egret, want to have some fun while working instead of just standing there and watching like a boring egret would.
Snowy Egret in foreground: "What is wrong with this guy?"
2 . Every Day They're Shuffling
Ever see herons and egrets scuffling in the mud? They're using this method to try to and lure fish in with their maddening dance skills. In reality though, most of those birds wouldn't make it on the first couple rounds of Ardeidae's Got Talent!
Or..... maybe they're just trying to stir up fish and other aquatic animals. I still prefer my theory though.
3. The Average-John Egret/Heron
"I'm watching for fish. Don't disturb me."
** 3 hours later **
** One day later **
If Great Blue Herons were as large as dinosaurs, I'd be terrified of them. They're deadly in the water and out. Ever seen a heron in a grassy field and think "Hmmm, I wonder why that heron is not by the water. He's probably sniffing the beautiful flowers and having fun in the grass "?
Mr. Heron isn't by the water because he's probably stabbing and swallowing gophers.
On rare occasions, herons have been recorded gobbling up other unwary large organisms, like kingfishers. Heck, one was even reported to have ambushed and consumed an entire Little Grebe.
Less qualified assassins, like the Malayan Night-heron, stick to earthworms.
|This juvenile Malayan Night-heron forgot to wash his bill again after dinner.|
Looks like his parent forgot too.
4. Jurassic Park Status
Some conniving, clever, conspiring Ardeidae, including the familiar Green and Great Blue Herons, utilize bread, leaves. and sticks in their hunting efforts.
It's quite simple. They place the bait in the water and wait for the droves of fish to come.
In particular cases they waggle it in a Leaf Dance to hypnotize and stun the fish with the power of Dark Heron Magic.
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(The East Asia trip report is under construction!)