“I was witness to a brief confrontation between two Grey Herons (Ardea cinerea) last Sunday morning.
“My attention was first drawn to a Grey Heron descending in the middle of the sea after making a sharp turn. As it descended, it decelerated as if it was moving in slow motion. When it was about to reach the water surface, with its long neck stretched downwards, it plunged its long beak into the water. When its beak emerged out of the water, a huge catfish had been caught (below).
“It then ascended and flew to a shallow part of the sea where it prepared the fish; manipulating it in its mandibles and washing it in the water several times. At times, the fish slipped from its mandibles to be picked up soon after. About 15 minutes after the catch, the preparation seemed complete as the fish was positioned ‘head-first’ towards its throat.
“Suddenly, a second grey heron appeared and flew in (below left), landing less than ten metres away. By this time, the huge fish, which must be heavy, had been held in ‘head-first’ position, for about 1 minute 45 seconds – a pretty long time. The first heron must be tiring, and somehow, seemed not quite ready to swallow the fish.
“The first heron looked uneasy with the arrival of this second bird. It changed direction to move away from the second heron with the prey still being maintained in ‘head-first’ position. Apparently, it had wanted to finish off its huge prey. Unfortunately, probably due to its lack of experience or pressure exerted by the presence of the second bird, the fish slipped away from its grip and fell into the water (above middle).
“Immediately, the second heron grabbed this opportunity to fly in to challenge for the fish. In a defensive stance to deter the intruder, the first heron reacted by opening up its wings and erected the black plumes on its head (above right). Both birds leaped out of the water and were airborne in confrontation (below left). The soaring second heron’s higher position above the first heron, probably exhibited its superiority over its opponent (below middle). When they landed, the first heron turned away in retreat, defeated (below right). Neither vocalisation nor physical contact was observed during this brief confrontation.
“Victorious, the second heron picked up its prize from the sea. It then flew away with the huge fish firmly in its beak, leaving the vanquished to rue its loss and misfortune.”
Kwong Wai Chong
25th February 2010