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Heron Does Not Live By Fish Alone January 15, 2012

Posted by nrhatch in Animals, Food & Drink, Nature.

I learned something new today.

Just as “man does not live by bread alone,” Great Blue Heron does not live by fish alone.


Herons also eat rats!

I saw a Great Blue Heron in the lagoon catch, drown, and eat a rat (that seemed far too large to fit down its gullet).

When it started to swallow the rat, whole, I held my breath, wondering whether the bird had bitten off more than it could chew . . . or swallow.

After a few gulps, and sips of water, the hungry heron managed to down the drowned rat without mishap.

Surprised . . . I did a quick cybersearch and found out that others have observed similar fare on the Heron’s menu:

Here’s another from start . . . to finish:

Who knew?

Did you?


From WikipediaThe primary food for Great Blue Heron is small fish, though it is also known to feed on a wide range of shrimp, crabs, aquatic insects, rodents and other small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and small birds. Herons locate their food by sight and usually swallow it whole.

Herons have been known to choke on prey that is too large. 


1. shannon sullivan - January 15, 2012

Cool 🙂 … I didn’t know that!

nrhatch - January 15, 2012

The birds on our lagoon are an endless source of fascination and inspiration to me.

As I watched the bird tackling the enormous rodent, I wondered whether it would choke before completing its mission . . . and, if it did, whether it would it turn “blue in the face.”

Fortunately, that question is left pending for another day.

2. suzicate - January 15, 2012

I assumed herons feasted only on fish.
They say snakes also eat things you couldn’t imagine them swallowing!

nrhatch - January 15, 2012

I figured they might eat the occasional frog or snake, but I never knew they ate birds, turtles, and rodents.

Snakes are amazing . . . since they can unhinge their jaws to swallow large prey. Talk about “coming unglued.” 😉

3. Crowing Crone Joss - January 15, 2012

as much as I love Blue Herons, i did not know that about them. Makes sense though. This summer, early in the morning, I watched as a pair of them gave flying lessons to two little ones. it was a magical moment in time.

nrhatch - January 15, 2012

That’s awesome, Joss! I’ve seen osprey teaching their babies to fly . . . but never baby herons or egrets.

And they have such a unique way of flying. It must have been marvelous to behold.

4. barb19 - January 15, 2012

I never knew that!

nrhatch - January 15, 2012

It surprised me when I looked out the window and saw what the heron had in its beak.

5. judithhb - January 15, 2012

In answer to your question – No I didn’t know. Good post Nancy. 🙂

nrhatch - January 15, 2012

Thanks, Judith. Nature is full of surprises.

6. Booksphotographsandartwork - January 15, 2012

Oh no poor little rat! Oh I know, I know it has to happen. Ick so sad. I can not watch that video. The pet rats I had once were so sweet and affectionate.

nrhatch - January 15, 2012

Aww . . . I’m sorry, Linda. I understand. I couldn’t watch the videos of herons eating ducklings, chipmunks, or turtles.

7. viviankirkfield - January 15, 2012

Ugh! Thanks for sharing. 🙂
Seriously, though, I always love learning something I didn’t know.

nrhatch - January 15, 2012

That was my initial reaction too, Vivian . . . ugh! Nature is revolting and fascinating at the same time. 😉

8. Andra Watkins - January 15, 2012

They can feast on those nasty rats all day long. Like MTM says: it keeps them away from me. 🙂

nrhatch - January 16, 2012

I can’t watch baby mice being fed to captive snakes . . . but watching the heron eat the rat was fascinating.

9. Mands - January 15, 2012

That’s so interesting, I didn’t know that. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

nrhatch - January 16, 2012

It surprised me, Mands. 😯

10. pix & kardz - January 16, 2012

oh wow, who knew! learned something today, that’s for sure!
herons are at home along the Fraser River, too. but i’ve only ever caught them fishing 🙂
thanks for sharing!

nrhatch - January 16, 2012

Yes. I’ve seen them catch LOTS of fish . . . and an occasional snake or frog . . . but I didn’t realize they ate birds and small mammals as well.

11. ElizOF - January 16, 2012

Oh boy! Yuck! Is that a turtle in its beak? 😦

nrhatch - January 16, 2012

Yes . . . a baby snapping turtle. I wonder if the heron removes the shell first?

12. souldipper - January 16, 2012

I didn’t realize this,either, Nancy. As much as I cringe over rats, I couldn’t watch all of the video. I couldn’t help wonder…what if the rat is not fully drowned? Would it do just a little damage inside that heron?

nrhatch - January 16, 2012

I expect it would, Amy. During the “live show” I watched today, the heron spent at least 10 minutes to make sure the rat was DEAD. It would drop it . . . dart out and catch it . . . look at it for signs of movement . . . hold it under the water . . . drop it again . . . etc.

It repeated this cycle about 7 times before swallowing the rat.

Booksphotographsandartwork - January 17, 2012

OH my gosh I should not have come back and read that! Ewwww but gee so smart.

nrhatch - January 17, 2012

Nature . . . fascinating and repelling at the same time.

13. Tilly Bud - January 16, 2012

Well I didn’t know that!

nrhatch - January 16, 2012

You and me both, TIlly.

When I saw so many youtube videos of herons eating fare other than fish, I wondered if it was “common knowledge.”

14. Carl D'Agostino - January 16, 2012

Hmmmmm. Can you please send of bunch of these birds to that congress building up there in that problem creating whatchamacallit city?

nrhatch - January 16, 2012

Now, Carl . . . we don’t want to give the herons upset stomachs!What we need is a few of them there pteradactyls and pterosaurs to glean the streams of politicians flooding the hallways in D.C.


15. Rufus' Food and Spirits Guide - January 16, 2012

Eeek, rats. I love the title of this post. Too funny and true.

nrhatch - January 16, 2012

Thanks, Greg. I’m a bit squeamish about the wee beasties myself. 😉

16. spilledinkguy - January 16, 2012

I had NO CLUE!
Sounds a bit… chewy.

nrhatch - January 16, 2012

I cannot imagine how hungry I would have to be to eat a rat . . . or a rabbit. I’m happy with fruits, veggies, grains, seeds, and nuts.

And . . . chocolate! 😀

17. JannatWrites - January 16, 2012

Eww. I didn’t know that. Couldn’t watch the videos…nature videos tend to make me queasy. I know it happens all the time and it’s part of survival, but I don’t want to see it 🙂

nrhatch - January 16, 2012

I understand completely, Janna. I always cheer for the ZEBRA in its race against the LION . . . although the Zebra seldom wins.

I’ve seen some amazing footage on nature videos . . . and I always wonder how the videographer can let, for example, the Killer Whate eat the baby seals . . . when he could easily encourage the baby seals to move out of harm’s way.

Or how they can film birds in distress without rendering aid.

NOTE TO SELF: That’s NOT the job for me.

18. jeanne - January 16, 2012

Anything that eats rodents is a keeper in my book.

nrhatch - January 16, 2012

I expect that you are not alone in that sentiment. 😉

19. Cmsmith - January 16, 2012

No kidding.

nrhatch - January 16, 2012

W~I~L~D America! 😀

20. Perfecting Motherhood - January 16, 2012

Damn, I wished they’d eat squirrels too! We have blue herons around and I should could have them snatch the squirrels that raid my garden every day no matter how much I try to protect it.

nrhatch - January 16, 2012

Herons eat chipmunks . . . but squirrels (especially the well fed squirrels that raid your garden) are probably TOO BIG.

21. adeeyoyo - January 17, 2012

That is so interesting. Thanks, Nancy! I used to have pet white mice too as a child but now know a little about survival so it didn’t upset me. BTW squirrels (above) are also members of the rat family I believe.

nrhatch - January 17, 2012

It’s the circle of life . . . watching it is more than I can manage at times. It often depends upon who’s on the menu.

I believe you’re right that squirrels and rats are “cousins” branched off the same family tree.

22. klrs09 - January 17, 2012

Fascinating. Have watched Great Blues up at my sister’s cottage in Northern Ontario, they are magnificent birds. Though I’m definitely not a lover of rats I was feeling kind of sorry for the poor thing in the second video. What a long and painful death that was. Everything has to eat, though, and better the heron have a meal than that rat.

nrhatch - January 17, 2012

I have compassion for anything in the midst of being killed and eaten. If I’d created the world . . . all animals (including man) would be vegetarians. 😉

23. ceceliafutch - January 17, 2012

I don’t mind herons eating rodents, I just can’t watch while it happens! I passed on the videos, thank you. ech….

nrhatch - January 17, 2012

That’s OK, Cecelia. We should always be mindful of what we put into our minds . . . I guard the entrance to mine jealously.

24. 2e0mca - January 17, 2012

Herons will eat most living things (up to a certain size) that they encounter – it’s the vegetables that they don’t like. Saying ‘eat your greens’ to a Heron is about as effective as saying the same thing to a child 😉 Pelicans in Hyde park eat Pigeons os why shouldn’t Herons eat Rats? Nice post – Think we’ll have fried Budgie for dinner 😉

2e0mca - January 17, 2012

ps – On my Mother-in-Law’s farm in Zimbabwe I have seen a group of chickens peck a snake to death and eat it. Nasty viscious things Chickens!

nrhatch - January 17, 2012

I’ve seen farm raised “wild turkeys” killing a snake (in a documentary). I don’t remember them eating it afterwards, but they may have been full.

I had NO IDEA that pelicans ate pigeons . . . Mother Nature is full of surprises. Our neighbors in Maryland raised and ate pigeons . . . we never accepted an invitation to dine with them. 😉

Hope you enjoyed your fried Budgie.

2e0mca - January 17, 2012

I decided I preferred them squawking at the politicians on the TV – they made more sense 😉

nrhatch - January 17, 2012

That’s great, Martin! Listening to them drowning out the politicians “double speak” might make this election year a bit more palatable . . . without having to plate up the Budgies.

25. kateshrewsday - January 17, 2012

Oh, that is amazing, Nancy! Dick Whittington could just as well have adopted a heron!

nrhatch - January 17, 2012

I’ve never heard of Whittington. Did a quick google:

Dick Whittington and His Cat is an English folk tale that has often been used as the basis for stage pantomimes and other adaptations. It tells of a poor boy in the 14th century who becomes a wealthy merchant and eventually the Lord Mayor of London because of the ratting abilities of his cat.

The character of the boy is named after a real-life person, Richard Whittington, but the real Whittington did not come from a poor family and there is no evidence that he had a cat.


Thanks, Kate! It’s a good thing we’re not relying on Tigger to make us rich by ratting. 😉

26. Team Oyeniyi - January 18, 2012

My immediate reaction is YUCK! Rats? Each to their own, I guess!

nrhatch - January 18, 2012

I feel the same way when they eat “sushi.” 😉

27. bluebee - January 20, 2012

I’m not sure I want to know that! 😀 Nature is both beautiful and cruel

nrhatch - January 20, 2012

It’s a “Heron Eat Rat World” out there. 😉

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