Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Unusual GBHE behavior

While birding the boardwalk at Magee Marsh last Friday, I heard a loud rustling noise, followed by the squawking of agitated birds. I looked across the canal in time to see a Great Blue Heron on the opposite bank, being mobbed by a group of Red-winged Blackbirds. The heron was just lifting its head from the ground and had what appeared to be a clump of weeds and mud in its bill. I assumed it had made a strike after a frog and missed. Then, I realized the "clump" was flapping and squealing. It had a bird! On closer inspection, I saw it was a female RWBB.

The heron repeatedly slammed the bird to the ground. Despite being attacked on all sides by the blackbirds, it continued to hammer its victim. All around me, people were moaning about how cruel Nature was, and making comments like "She probably has eggs," and "Just kill it quickly, this is terrible."

I took the opportunity to whip out my camera and grab a few shots. (Does that mean I'm sick and twisted, or just that I valued the blog-worthiness of the moment?)

I tried to stand up for the heron: "Everybody's got to eat," I said. "At least it is a Red-winged Blackbird, which are a dime a dozen here, and not a Golden-winged Warbler." I didn't get a lot of support.

Finally, the heron flew off with its prize, being pursued by a half-dozen or so blackbirds.

This behavior raises so many questions in my mind. How often do GBHE take birds? And, are RWBB standard fare, since they are so numerous, share the same habitat, and may often be found on the ground?
Why didn't the other RWBB just flee, seeking safety and abandoning the victim? Do they have some sort of sense of community and work cooperatively? And why didn't the other birders see the wonderous workings of Nature, celebrating the opportunity to see unusual behavior, instead of feeling sorry for the blackbird? Inquiring minds want to know.


Susan Gets Native said...

The great blue heron wants to be a raptor when he grows up. That's what it is.

Talk about being in the right place at the right time, Kath!

Anonymous said...

I think that the comments from birders illustrates well how distant humanity is from nature. Sick and unbalanced is more an adept description of ourselves - not the bird.

Great Blue Herons are opportunistic carnivores, the blackbird was probably in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Mary C said...

Great shots, Kat Doc. Talk about being in the right place at the right time for a photo op of Mother Nature at work. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

If I'd have been there I would have said, wow thats awesome! I've heard of GBHE's taking birds before but never seen it. You probably know why the other Blackbirds didn't flee, have you ever seen them flee anything? Those males chase down everything. Fact is that when blackbirds are on the offensive they don't make very easy targets for a predator. Predators like hawks or herons need to catch their prey by surprise so when they themselves are busy with their catch or are being attacked it is quite difficult to turn the tables. And yes Blackbirds do work collectively when its time to mob some predator, everybody wants in on the action. And at least one of the males was probably defending his mate, one male can actually have about 30+ females in his harem. Good times, way to capture the moment. - Ben Warner

Julie Zickefoose said...

Love this! Too bad the other birders were so Disney-ized that they couldn't appreciate what a cool thing that is to see. I think GBHE's live by the same rule as bullfrogs. If you can catch it, and swallow it whole, eat it! I've seen pictures of GBHE's with small mammals, young gators (ow!) and the like--the ultimate opportunistic predator. Ever seen a common grackle nab a house sparrow and fly off with it? Watch the birds at your feeder when a grackle descends. Nobody turns their back on it.
Thanks for being there, grabbing the moment, and letting people in on what GBHE's can do.

Anonymous said...

Awesome! I've never heard of GBHEs eating birds before. And people need to realize the brutal truth of nature: everyone needs to eat, and they'll eat whatever they can get. I, personally, wish I could've been there to see this...

possumlady said...

Oh, I guess I'm in the middle. I know everyone's gotta eat but I'm too soft-hearted. And, I LOVE RWBB. Don't get too many around these parts and when I hear their familiar call I always run out to see them.

Once I saw a crow with a baby catbird and not only the parents were going crazy but starlings were joining in and dive bombing the crow. Interspecies unity against a predator!