When you think of a great blue heron fishing, you probably picture a bird up to it's knees in water, moving very slowly as it forages for minnows and small fish along the shoreline. But, they are highly resourceful birds and, over time, I have seen some pretty amazing alternate techniques for catching fish.
Today's photos depict one of those alternate methods. The first time I ever saw them use this method, I saw four different herons all use it on the same day. I couldn't figure why I had never seen it before, but on this particular day, I saw it four times. Three of the four herons I witnessed succeeded in catching fish in this manner.
On two recent outings, I have also seen this same behavior. While I didn't understand why I was seeing it originally, since then I think I have gained some insight into when they choose to use this method and why they all seem to be doing it at the same time.
On both recent occasions, the tide was higher than the normal mean tide. When that happens, beaches that are normally above even a high tide, become inundated, reducing available sites where they would use their wading technique. This photo shows a heron trying to wade on the edge of the marsh where the water is so high, it is almost having to swim. So, what is a heron to do?
Their answer is to fish while flying! Who would ever think that a bird that size could successfully sneak up on a fish and catch it from the air? From what I have seen, they do it rather well. Sometimes they catch the fish without hardly getting wet.
And, sometimes they actually land on the water as in this photo.
This photo shows how they extend their neck out in front of them as far as possible. If you look carefully, you will see that his feet are half-way between his head and legs as he tries to keep them out of the water.
You can see the fish he caught using this method.
I noticed one further aid they were using on my last outing. I watched as herons would fly up river over the water, but when they would get to a certain point, they would turn around and drop down closer to the water and fly back over the wide expanse of water they had just flown over. As I watched one do this, I realized they were using the wind to slow them down so they could spot the fish better. Kind of raises your estimation of how smart they are, doesn't it?
If you see a heron go from a normal flight position to soaring with its wings at an angle and it's legs extended down as though it is going to land, keep your eyes on it. It is probably getting ready to try to catch a fish from flight.