Dear Catfish … the Heron is Not Your Friend

--->--->Dear Catfish … the Heron is Not Your Friend

Dear Catfish … the Heron is Not Your Friend

2012-06-07T03:05:53+00:00June 7th, 2012|Uncategorized|9 Comments

This is the largest prey yet that I’ve seen a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) catch and eat in one bite. The heron was hunting around Union Bay Natural Area in Seattle when it suddenly flew off, its breast skimming the water because of the drag from a large fish.

The heron landed out of sight, shrouded by distant marsh grasses. When it finally lurked into a clearing, I took a close look through my lens, and I saw the prey was a catfish, a species I wasn’t sure inhabited the waters around Lake Washington.

As much as I witness predator/prey interaction and have a firm grasp on this reality, I confess I’m never without empathy and emotional pangs for the prey. I understand the plight of both parties, and have seen the heartbreaking effects of starvation on predators as well. It’s a harsh reality to which I’m never fully reconciled.

The catfish in this case, was already dead when I took these shots. The heron then grabbed the fish whole, head first, and swallowed it in a matter of seconds. After the first gulp, the catfish shape protruded from the back of the heron’s neck, and with the second gulp, it virtually disappeared into that power-machine that is a Great Blue Heron digestive tract.

I’ve read accounts of Great Blues swallowing prey like a large bass — bass that clearly exceed the measurements of the heron’s bill and gullet. This catfish exceeded what I thought a heron could ingest whole. I’m interested to know what you’ve seen in terms of herons taking large fish. I usually see them trying for smaller fry.

** Glenn Nevill of Raptor Gallery posted a link in the comments, to a detailed series of shots of a heron also capturing a catfish — at Wood Lake Nature Center in Minneapolis. **

All photos shot with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and Lumix 100-300mm lens, ISO1250, 1/800, f8.


Wading in Deep

Great Blue Heron Wading at Union Bay Natural Area Seattle

click for larger image - ©ingridtaylar

Heron Eating Catfish at Union Bay Natural Area Seattle

click for larger image - ©ingridtaylar

Great Blue Heron Swallowing Catfish

Heron + Catfish Meal - ©ingridtaylar


Seconds later …

Great Blue Heron at Montlake Fill Seattle

Back to Normal - ©ingridtaylar


  1. Glenn Nevill June 7, 2012 at 2:33 pm - Reply

    Here is a sequence I captured back in 2007 at Wood Lake Nature Center in Minneapolis Minnesota. GBH catching killing and eating a catfish. Not as close as your shots here. But it was the best I could do at the time.

    • ingrid June 7, 2012 at 4:18 pm - Reply

      Glenn, what an incredible, detailed series you captured. I’m going to add a link to the above post. It shows so much more of the heron’s fishing process. Thanks for including that.

  2. Glenn Nevill June 7, 2012 at 5:02 pm - Reply

    Earlier I photographed the same GBH catching dragonflies.

    • ingrid June 8, 2012 at 11:23 am - Reply

      Glenn, I’ve never seen them catch dragonflies! Great. Have you seen that since with a GBH? The only bird I’ve photographed with dragonfly in beak was a Merlin who was chasing them along Lake Washington in Seattle.

      • Glenn Nevill June 8, 2012 at 12:41 pm - Reply

        No, I haven’t managed to see GBH’s hunt in quite some time.

        Please post the shot of the Merlin.

        • ingrid June 8, 2012 at 11:34 pm - Reply

          Hi, Glenn … it’s not a great shot, but this shows the Merlin with a dragonfly or damselfly in her talon.

          Click photo for larger image.

  3. Mike B. June 9, 2012 at 11:03 am - Reply

    Awesome! Looks like a gross meal though.

  4. Glenn Nevill June 9, 2012 at 4:08 pm - Reply

    No, it would take a gross to make a meal…

  5. Mia McPherson June 10, 2012 at 6:07 am - Reply

    Wow, that is a HUGE fish to swallow!

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