Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Vole. It's What's For Dinner

This is something of a first for me. Of the few thousand photos I've taken of the herons on a nearby lake, I've only seen them catching and eating fish. I know they will eat other things, but I've never given it a second thought with these herons because I've only witnessed them eating fish. 


On this particular day, I photographed one of the herons catching and eating a vole. And he did it from the water. He was standing next to a high bank along the shoreline, but instead of facing out toward the water, he kept staring at the bank. He did this for quite some time and I couldn't figure out what he was doing. It was only when he made that quick heron strike that I realized he had been hunting something other than fish. If I hadn't been paying attention, I would have missed the whole thing.


I didn't know exactly what kind of rodent he'd caught until I got home and downloaded the photos. I'm 99.9% sure it was a vole. It wasn't a mole or a mouse, although voles are sometimes referred to as field mice. I compared photos from the Internet and I'm pretty sure I've identified it correctly as a vole. At any rate, it was an exciting moment and I'm glad I was watching closely.


The vole had dirt and debris on it from the muddy bank where the heron grabbed it. Since herons are quite majestic birds and would never consider eating a dirty meal, this heron dunked the vole not once, not twice, but three times in the lake before eating it. It's good to know they have standards.






















And here is a close-up of the hunter and his prey.





31 comments:

TexWisGirl said...

holy crap! would have never guessed that, either! how cool to witness and photograph! i sure hope the vole was already dead before he got dunked. fantastic shots, as always!

i read your title in my best sam elliott voice. :)

Martha Z said...

A great series. I often see egrets out in the meadow hunting voles and I've even photographed one with its catch but not stunning images like this!

Nature Rambles said...

A fantastic series of shots! I'm sure the egrets in our area are doing the same. Hope I get to take such photos some day.:)

Liz said...

WOW BJK!! You have a brilliant series here! Wonderful, clear shots and that close up at the end is amazingly detailed. I am in awe!!

Gary said...

Great sequence!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

Barb said...

Great shots, crystal clear and detailed. Patience is a virtue, they say, and you were certainly rewarded for your patience.

mick said...

Great series of photos and a really fantastic happening to see and photograph.

√ėyvind Buljo said...

Nice captures! That's being at the right place at the right time! Seems like the heron likes his food wet, dipping that vole.

Dawn said...

Holy Moly...or should I say Voly!
Wow. Great captures Brian...super!

(And I have to apologize...I had your old blog link up on my sidebar...I was wondering what was going on~~ I hadn't updated your blog link! Sorry about that...I fixed it. I will be around more:)

Hilke Breder said...

Fantastic series, Brian! Great action, wonderful capture and interesting info!

Andrew said...

A wonderful series of images Brian.
It takes patience to capture a Heron feeding... and you have that my friend..

Many thanks for sharing and please accept my best Christmas wishes to you and your family.

NewMexiKen said...

Nice catch, for you and the Great Blue!

Ranu said...

lovely pics...... The heron washed the animal before eating it!!!! Amazing and I thought I was the only one with the washing phobia!!!! Fabulous captures!!!

eileeninmd said...

Awesome series, I love the dunking shot. It had to be an amazing sight to watch. Great photos.

bailey-road.com said...

What a series!

Pieces of Sunshine said...

That's amazing! Love the sequence and great definition of your photos. Wonderful capture.

Carole Meisenhelter said...

:) yes standards, indeed. Maybe the dunking was to assist in the vole sliding down easier? Magnificent photographs; what an occassion having that happen before your eyes, and your lens.

LB @ Bullets And Biscuits said...

What!? I had no idea they ate voles. I need some herons in my backyard then. That's awesome to capture all that on film too!

Deb said...

wow I didn't know they ate rodents....great shots...but yucky varmit...looks like the rat my granddog Ginger had...

Stewart M said...

Hi there - what a great set of pictures - one of my target images for 2012 is of a heron actually catching something. I'll have to go some to match these!

Cheers - Stewart M - Australia

Nancy Claeys said...

At least he washed it before he ate it. :)

holdingmoments said...

A stunning series Brian. Excellent, indeed.

NatureFootstep said...

I´m glad it is not my dinner. :) Nice catch!

Arija said...

The poor little vole looks so frightened in the last shot.
Was the heron washing it or drowning it?
It certainly made fro a filling meal even if he had to put some effort into it.

Amazing photos.

Springman said...

Vole, it's what's for dinner!
How funny is that? Hey Brian, great series! You are quickly becoming the foremost Great Blue Heron photographer in the world today. You must be spending the time out there because shots like these don't come easy. I have seen them do that dunking ritual too. The last picture is absolutely blood curdling, Love it!
Cheers to you Sir!

Rambling Woods said...

I was surprised to learn that but it's how herons can stay longer in some of the more northern areas..this is a great set of photos..wow...

Joe said...

Wow! Great catch. I never thought of Herons eating anything but fish.

Larry said...

Unbelievable captures Brian! This is truly an amazing series on the Great Blue Heron eating the vole. According to Birds of North America Online, they eat "mostly fish but also amphibians, invertebrates, reptiles, mammals, and birds." The article also states that they usually dunk small mammals in water before swallowing. My guess is that it makes them easier to swallow if their fur is wet.

Mary Howell Cromer said...

Wowsa, that is impressive, what a moment and such great timing for you to get these brilliant captures. I guess protein is protein and maybe when the Heron saw the vole, he thought it was just a fish out of water. Merry Christmas~

Mary Howell Cromer said...

Wowsa, that is impressive, what a moment and such great timing for you to get these brilliant captures. I guess protein is protein and maybe when the Heron saw the vole, he thought it was just a fish out of water. Merry Christmas~

Mike Batard said...

"Since herons are quite majestic birds and would never consider eating a dirty meal, this heron dunked the vole not once, not twice, but three times in the lake before eating it."

Actually, Great Blue herons will also dunk fish and amphibians before swallowing. We have observed this behavior many, many times, but the actual reason for dunking the meal before swallowing in not known. Interestingly, there are some fish the swallow right down without the dunking ceremony. The reasons for this behavior are just speculative, and we have no consensus on why hey do this.