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.