Friday, April 24, 2015


A Great Egret at Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina, about to enjoy a large lunch. The fish, obviously having a bad day, is a Menhaden. It is one of the most important fish species in US Atlantic fisheries. There are active conservation bodies from Maine to Florida ensuring Menhaden populations are healthy and not over fished. Why? Because Menhaden are the forage base for striped bass, bluefish, cod, sea trout, bonito, tuna, haddock, halibut, mackerel, swordfish, king mackerel, summer flounder and numerous other predator species to the point that renowned 19th-century ichthyologist G. Brown Goode stated that people eating Atlantic saltwater fish consume "nothing but menhaden." Menhaden are used to bait crab and lobster pots, "reduced" (boiled, dried and ground) to make fertilizer, turned into feed for chicken, pigs and cattle and made into fish oil supplements. They are a significant factor in nearly any human diet.

Obviously, Egrets like them too. I had never watched an Egret "work" up close like this before. I can now say Egrets are ruthlessly efficient assassins. Standing motionless with it's back to the sun, the fish below did not see the ominous neck, head, and stiletto beak looming above them. Even the bird's neck and head being narrower left to right than front to back, decreased it's front profile, making it even more difficult to see from under water. Built into that bird brain, an instinctive, or at least well practiced, ability to compensate for the refractive offset caused by the fish being under water and the bird's eyes being in the air. In a flash a fish would be stabbed or grabbed and pulled from the water. Then a few beak maneuvers and it would be swallowed head first and still very much alive. I could see them wriggling and wiggling in that long throat all the way down into the bird's body. Eeewwwwwwwwwwwww!

Every time the Egret swallowed a fish, it would dip it's bill into the water and seemed to be grabbing a little drink to wash it down with. But it was a salt marsh, so maybe it was getting a little seasoning for the fish instead!

Update - 06-17-2015 - Having watched other egrets and a Great Blue Heron do the dip and swish after swallowing a catch, I think they are de-sliming their beaks. A slimy beak is a slippery beak that could allow a fish to escape. A clean beak is a deadly efficient weapon.

Tom Bradley  ©  2015

1 comment:

  1. Amazing captures here! I am doing a report and would appreciate some info/feedback on the feeding process if it's truely possible.

    So the big wriggling fish was captured by the egret here and the bird really managed to win the battle and gulp that whole fish down its long/skinny neck okay?? Was this formidable (and poor!) fish swallowed down alive as you said, I wonder, does it stand any slim chsnce of wriggling out to escape the birds stomach?! If not, does the bird manage to digest (bones etc) entirely?