The Grey Heron, Ardea cinerea, is pretty awesome. Sort of midway between a bird, a spear, and brace of broken waking sticks. Their method of catching prey is great as well:
1: Stand around and wait for something to come near you.
2: If something comes near you, stab it with your face.
3: If suitably subdued, swallow.
4: If not suitably subdued, beat it against something/drown it in nearest water.
I imagine that, like me, most people imagine herons hanging about near water, catching fish and frogs and aquatic invertebrates. Maybe occasionally eating Great Crested Newts because Grey Herons pay no heed to conservation.
(I implore you to click on all the linked photos in today’s post. It is well worth it)
Of course, Grass Snakes tend to hang around near water as well, and so you’d assume they’d occasionally get snapped up. And they do.
What else hangs around near water and could fit down a heron’s neck? Ducklings? Yup. Please click the link and look at the picture and read the article. It is from that bastion of reliable and even-handed reporting, ‘The Sun’. I think my favourite quotes from the article are ‘its mother wailed in agony‘ (I’ve never seen a duck wail), and ‘Nature can be so cruel‘ (but most of the time it is a parade of relentless loveliness, of course). Well done ‘The Sun’, rock bottom is no obstacle to you.
If photographs of ducklings being eaten don’t quite do it for you, here’s a full video:
So if herons sit about on the edge of water looking for fluffy adorable little birds to eat, do they ever occasionally snatch up that most adorable of grebes, the Dabchick? Well of course. And they fight over their bloodied corpses.
And they’ll happily chow down on a Moorhen.
What else can be found near water? Rats? Yeah. They’ll happily eat rats. Delightfully, there is also an article from ‘The Sun’ about a heron eating a rat. The picture is oddly cropped and stretched, but that rat doesn’t look quite right to me. I’ve never seen a wild rat with that sort of pale patterning on the underside. The article also gives us a bit of information about Grey Herons, saying that ‘They usually go for mice‘ (of course, herons are notorious mice eaters) and that ‘Herons are popular in the UK‘ (?).
And if you want to see a whole rat-eating event in glorious technicolour then watch the video below:
I did find two pictures of Grey Herons eating small rodents. One picture, taken in the Netherlands, confidently identifies the meal as a Common Vole. The other picture seems to be of a vole as well, but I wouldn’t be confident about identifying the species.
I imagine that everybody in the entire world has seen the pictures of a Grey Heron catching, drowning and eating a rabbit. I won’t bore you with loads of details, in fact I will just direct you to Darren Naish’s post on the subject. I will also add another picture you probably won’t have seen of a heron with a rabbit. Clearly not incredibly unusual behaviour.
Now we get onto the weirder stuff. These are pictures that I didn’t expect to exist and feature prey species that I wouldn’t have expected at all. For example, a heron catching, drowning and eating a starling. I’d have imagined Starlings might have been a bit too wary, or nimble, for a heron to catch. Clearly not.
Though they are sometimes nimble enough to escape:
This next species certainly isn’t nimble and would easily fit down a heron’s gullet; I just wouldn’t have assumed their path’s would cross. Heron eating a mole. Moles do occasionally come to the surface and wander about; I don’t know why. Is it a dispersal thing?
I suppose if you can eat a rabbit and you can eat a snake, a Weasel should present no obstacle. And it doesn’t appear to. Here is an entire sequence of pictures of a Grey Heron attempting to subdue a weasel. If I was a weasel being attacked by a heron, I’d play dead, let it start to swallow me, then I’d start clawing at the inside of its oesophagus. If I was a weasel I’d be king.
This last one surprised me the most – Grey Heron eating an Adder. How fascinating is that? Another pair of species that I wouldn’t have thought would overlapped that much – though Adders are our most widely distributed snake, and I have seen them in marshy habitat at Thorne Moor in Lincolnshire, so there is no good reason why herons shouldn’t catch and eat them. I wonder if herons can distinguish between Grass Snakes and Adders, and thus subdue and eat them in different ways?
In fact, I think it is quite interesting that Grey Herons often seem to use drowning when dealing with mammals and birds, a tactic they obviously don’t use when catching amphibians and fish. It seems to indicate that capturing a mammal isn’t just a one-off, opportunistic event, as clearly they have a strategy in place to deal with it.
Anyway, there you go. A post filled with small animals being horribly dispatched by a dispassionate broken-umbrella of a bird.
And if you know of any other weird animals being eaten by Grey Herons, please let me know. I had my fingers crossed that there would be a picture of a Grey Heron eating a kitten. I bet it’s happened though.