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 in Seattle

Great Blue Heron eating catfish

Seconds later …

Great Blue Heron swallowing large prey

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