Sunday, 11 November 2012

Death by heron

Having already coughed up its half-swallowed hapless victim, the adult Grey Heron repositions it for another attempt.
Though predominantly fish eaters, Grey Herons have a famously wide diet that extends from a wide range of aquatic creatures to small mammals, birds and plant material. I have previously watched one drown and consume a Brown Rat, which struck me as unusual at the time, but this latest episode - involving a waterbird almost too large to consume - is surely an even rarer event.

Getting the head and neck in is the easy bit - the body and legs are the problem.
I took this sequence of images two days ago at my local patch of Rainham RSPB, Greater London, over a period of about 15 minutes. They are from a much larger series which begins with the heron coughing up its partly swallowed prey because it seems simply too big to consume.

Almost there, but with the slow downward progress of 'lunch' the heron is starting to gag ...
I concentrated on getting the images at the time and assumed through the viewfinder that the victim was probably a Little Grebe. Looking more closely now, the detail suggests otherwise, with the bird having clean white flanks and blackish upperparts. What exactly it is, however, is open to speculation - comments welcome.

... so one last throw back of the head might just do it (note the victim's clean white flanks before they disappear).
Just about there now, if the heron can get those legs in and keep it all down.
Finished, at least until a very large pellet of bones and feathers is regurgitated. Note the bird-shaped neck bulge.


  1. My guess is Black-necked Grebe. It looks like a small grebe, and the black on the back of the nape seems too broad to be a Slav - the white cheeks almost meet on the nape of a Slav

  2. In the first image the bill does appear to be longer and finer than that of a little Grebe (although the image is distant) along with the clean white flanks - could this have been a Black-necked Grebe?

  3. It looks like one of the Grebe species. I think to me but not 100% sure looks like a Great crested Grebe.

    To large for a little Grebe.

  4. I agree with John and Tony on Black-necked, for the same reasons.
    We watched a Grey Heron do the same with a Little Grebe from the David Feast hide at Grove Ferry a couple of years back. Steve Ashton took a series of shots that he posted on his blog and on Flickr at the time.

    Regards, Martyn

  5. Hi Dom,

    my money's on juvenile Coot. By the way, there's a Grey Heron here at the Dams in Filey which has developed a worrying taste for Water Voles.... Mark

  6. It certainly looks like Grebus bodily harm! I would think either Black-necked or possibly a Slavonian. Ruffled up the black stripe might just appear wider than on an undisturbed bird,

  7. Hey Dominic...great series of shots. Although the victim resembles a grebe I'm also gonna go with juvenile Coot - I cant believe a BNG likely as it's such a relative you know if there was one around that day/week? Cheers, Lol ;o)



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