Monday, December 15, 2008

Great Blue Heron Gopher Getter

Great Blue Heron

The first time I saw a Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias, catch and eat a gopher I couldn't believe my eyes. I thought of great blue heron eating frogs and fish, but here in winter they hunt in grassy areas for gophers. We're still amazed when we see blue heron catching gophers in our yard and eating them whole! These photos were taken from inside our house and through the screen and window so the quality isn't that great, but I just had to share this amazing site.

This is an immature great blue heron. I can tell due to his smaller size and lack of plume feathers on the head. For the last three years I have seen great blue heron in the same nest and have observed the young as they grow bigger each day. Both parent heron feed the young in the nest for several months before they are large enough to fly away.

This heron was in our back yard for over an hour walking slowly across the lawn, pausing occasionally, motionless, waiting for movement in the grass. When the heron spied the gopher, it struck with lightening speed extending it's long neck and grabbing the gopher. After the heron caught the gopher, he held it in his beak for almost ten minutes while the gopher squirmed trying to get away. We also noticed when the heron was holding the gopher, he kept his neck curled up and close to his body, probably to better handle holding the weight of the gopher in its beak for that length of time. We surmised the heron was waiting for the gopher to tire before the heron swallowed it.

We have seen other heron flick gophers with their beaks up into the air catching them with their neck extended upward and swallowing them whole. We have also seen heron catch gophers in the Spring and carry them off presumably to feed their young in the nest. After this heron swallowed the gopher, he rested in one spot for a while, then he went back to hunting for more gophers in the grass.

Here's another great blue heron who landed in the deodar tree, Cedrus deodara, in our back yard one day. What a beautiful and regal bird.


  1. Wow. Who would have thunk it?! You can send some our way to get the groundhogs before they get too big.

  2. how handy is that!
    I only thought they are fish!
    Me- in va. visiting my mother.

  3. I didn't know they went for gophers! We had THREE of them living on the river this spring and summer. I was shocked to see one Saturday, and it was wicked cold and snowy, but there he was in the river. Shouldn't he be in sunny CA now (or somewhere like that!). heck, maybe I should grab him and drive him to your house....

  4. I'm amazed. Had no idea they ate gophers! We live on a pond and are blessed with various heron visits. But th only food I've seen them take are fish. GREAT photos!

  5. Hi Jerry, We have so many gophers, I'm sorry to say I need to keep the blue heron here, sorry.

    Hi Meredith, hope you are having a good time visiting your mom.

    Hi Gary, I read they sometimes don't migrate as they are pretty hardy, they'd have to be to make it through your winter I guess.

    Hi Becky, they probably prefer fish, but if they're hungry enough they'll eat gophers, I guess. This time of year our river is pretty low and the ponds may be fished out. I could have gone outside to get clearer photos, but I didn't want to disturb the heron - I think they have a pretty hard life finding enough food.

  6. Hi Linda, I used to watch a Heron poke holes in the ice on the pond outside a restaurant I worked in, then stand there perfectly still until a fish came to get air then BAM!
    Thanks for stopping in at SoCalPotters! I just posted photos I took the other night at the American Museum of Ceramic Art, take a look!

  7. Hi Linda.. 2 of my favorite birds are herons and egrets. They have such a beautiful form.
    About the only time I don't care for them is when they stand over my relatively small fish pond like its an all you can eat buffet. Evidently my dogs don't care for that much either. ;)

    Cheers! Anne

  8. Hi Chris, where did you live where it was cold enough for a pond to freeze? I checked out the site, those photos are wonderful and the pots are so great. thanks.

    Welcome Anne, the heron haven't noticed my small claw foot bathtub with goldfish in it. The goldfish have gone from 1 inch long to about 6 inches long in 4 years. I am wondering if I can call them Koi now or are the same thing? Anyway they're doing well so far.

  9. Hi Linda! I teach elementary students in Newark, CA.
    My classroom has a great view of the campus's sports field.
    A great Blue Heron will frequently show up and nab a gopher or two.
    Just yesterday m whole class were audience to the Heron taking out two gophers in the span of 10 minutes.
    Amazing to witness.

  10. Hi John, Tell your students I said hi. So glad the kids get to see nature in action, so many nowadays are tied to computers and phones. We have three blue heron nesting this year in a big sycamore tree and can see the babies with binoculars.


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