Birds Living II by Richard Stade - RStade

Great Blue Heron – With recently caught Bowfin

Ardea herodias

March – Texas

L=46” ...... WS=72” ...... WT=5.3 lb Order: Ciconiiformes (Herons, Ibises, Storks, New World Vultures, Allies) Family: Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, Bitterns)

Great Blue Herons forage primarily by walking slowly through water, often chest deep, and quickly striking their prey with their bill, which is adapted for both grasping and spearing. Like all other birds of the family Ardeidae the Great Blue Heron has an “S” shaped neck in which the bones of the neck are even more “S” shaped than the neck itself. This extra length of vertebrae serves two functions - (i) since the vertebrae cross from behind to in front of the esophagus, the bones can protect the esophagus during a strike and (ii) this added length allows for incredible quickness in the strike itself. Great Blue Herons eat mostly fish but will also eat amphibians, invertebrates, reptiles, mammals and birds. While most fish eaten are small (less than 12 inches) larger fish are caught and eaten whole , although this sometimes results in the bird choking to death. In this photograph, the Great Blue Heron has speared a bowfin of considerable size (2.5-3 lb). Killing this fish quickly is important for the bird since bowfins have sharp teeth and are ill-tempered fighters.