Little Heron chick: 7. Teaching it to “hunt”

The Little Heron (Butorides striatus) has grown after 17 days of care and feeding. It is now able to feed on live guppies, mollies and goldfishes like an expert, manipulating them so that the head is swallowed first (left).

However, the feeding on live fishes placed inside a dish in the safety of a cage is far from the conditions that it would be exposed to when released.

I was reminded of this by Victor Lee when he wrote: “…try getting a larger body of water, i.e. a bigger dish, maybe one of those large water tubs. Put in tree branches, dried leave litter, etc. Basically create little areas where the fishes can hide. Don’t put in too many fish at a time and if possible, use fast swimming guppies/mollies type and not slow moving goldfishes. This will make it a little more difficult for the bird to hunt for it’s meal and more realistic. Try also a combination of food, tadpoles, small frogs, even earthworms or crickets.”

My limitation is the size of the cage. I can have a crude miniature landscape using a small basin filled with water, definitely not a large water tub.

Dr Gloria Chay added: “Remember to give the heron it’s vitamins still 1-2 times weekly, stuffed into the gut of dead fishes. Vitamin ADE and B complexes are important. Feathers look good, next step would be to allow it to bathe to waterproof itself. Shallow tubs would suffice from now. Make sure it doesn’t stay on wire caged flooring for too long, otherwise Bumblefoot (abscessed feet) will develop, and it’ll need to learn to perch on tree stumps etc. Mice are hard to find, otherwise it’ll make a nice meal during rehab. Unless you can get day-old chicks (killed). Other live meals include crickets and the super-worms to stimulate hunting.”

Well, I added a perch as suggested and the bird took to it after an initial period of suspicion. Previously it perched on the edge of the dish containing the live fish. Now, it is on the perch all the time, reaching down into the dish for its food. It even used the perch to clean its bill.

Unfortunate I don’t have a large enough cage to simulate outside conditions. My cage can only take in a small basin where the live food can be places together with water weeds and floating leaves.

I tried earthworms placed in the water (below). The bird managed to pick it up but each time the worm slipped out of its bill. I fed it small frogs, newly developed from tadpoles (bottom left). The bird simply loved them, picking them up expertly and swallowing them. The presence of limbs no doubt helped. The frogs were spared when they remained motionless but the moment they moved, they were eaten. It also took to crickets, catching one after the other by their thin legs but often not able to manipulate them for swallowing (bottom right).



I am currently feeding it small, fast moving guppies, placed in the water with floating leaves to provide cover for the fish. The bird is now working hard for its food, spending most of the time perching motionless except slowly extending its neck to locate the fish.

The bird sometimes drank by pushing its bill along the water surface. At other times it simply dipped its bill into the water. When fed crickets, it drank more often. When offered a piece of fish left at the bottom of the cage and thus a little dried out, it had difficulty manipulating it with its bill and tongue. What it did was to dip the piece into the water and tried again. This it did a few times until it managed to channel it into its oral cavity.

YC Wee
December 2007

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