A funny thing happened to me the other day, cliched opening I know, but, I saw a Heron who couldn’t fish. I should qualify that statement and say that it was perfectly able to catch fish (large flatfish) but it couldn’t manage to work out how to eat the ones it caught. I sat in the hide at our local nature reserve and watched for two hours. Time and again it speared a large fish, but on every occasion, after much manoeuvring to line it up to go in head first, as it must to ensure the spines on the fish do not get stuck in its throat, it gave up and left the deceased fish on the side of the pond or floating in the water.
I didn’t understand this. What was going on?
I consulted birding friends to see if they had ever noticed this kind of problem. They hadn’t but one mused that maybe it was a relatively inexperienced bird – even though it clearly had its adult plumage.
So I began to research the topic.
It appears that Herons have to teach themselves to fish. Heron parents, apparently, do not count this among their parental duties. As far as they are concerned the young Herons are supposed to use the bird version of a Fishing for Dummies book to get them started.
Many of you will have experienced the double edged joy of seeing a Heron standing majestically next to your garden pond. Beautiful sight, until you realize that the wonder before you is systematically stripping your pond of its fishy inhabitants. This bird is in all probability an inexperienced fisher. Young Herons frequent ponds to catch their food as it is easier to do so in the relatively confined space they provide. Steps can be taken to try and minimize the problem, such as netting the pond (although this hampers other desirable wildlife from using it). Some people even suggest standing a plastic decoy Heron next to the pond in the hopes that it will deter other individuals from alighting. This can backfire however, and the decoy can actually draw other Herons to the pond, since they think there must be something in there if one of their number is already avidly watching it.
Unfortunately it is not only your ponds fish which may be vulnerable as Herons eat amphibians (Toads, Frogs etc.), reptiles, insects, crustaceans, molluscs, worms and birds. Not great news if your pond is home to pet ducks – ducklings are occasionally a favoured snack item for Herons.
No doubt the attentions of this unwanted visitor can be worrying, but possibly the best solution if you are plagued in this way is to admit defeat and forget having ornamental fish, pet ducks etc. and make the pond a true wildlife refuge. A place where the appearance of a Heron wearing the equivalent of fishing L Plates is not so much a worry but a joy to be savoured whenever you are lucky enough to see it.
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