Grey Heron – feeding behaviour

“Watched a Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea jouyi) handle a rather large fish, almost too much for the bird (below). The fish was dropped a number of times, the head stabbed and it was turned sideways and shaken; presumably to break the vertebral column of the fish. The fish was repositioned a number of times before it could be swallowed.

HewronGr-fish [AmarSingh] 1

“What was of interest to me was the post feeding behaviour. The bird seemed to drink water or wash the beak a number of times. It also picked up sticks a few times to run through the beak (below). At first I thought this was nest building activity, but after 5-6 episodes of picking up and discarding sticks I suspect it could be cleaning the inside of the beak.

HewronGr-fish [AmarSingh] 2

“Perhaps the large fish had left some lingering sensation in the beak or some tiny bits were stuck.
I managed to capture some of these observations on video and appreciate any opinions.

“Video below.”

Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS
Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
26th June 2017

Location: Tambun, Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
Habitat: Secondary growth near limestone hills and ex-mining pools (fish farming)

2 Responses

  1. Howard Banwell

    That’s a huge mouthful given the relative body mass of the heron and the fish!

    I would tend the think that bits of the fish – scales for example – get stuck inside the beak and the heron uses the twigs as a kind of toothpick or dental floss!

  2. Lee Chiu San

    Two observations. First, it would appear that the fish was already dead when the heron picked it up and that rigor mortis has set in. The body appears to be unusually stiff.
    Second, that fish is a shark catfish of the family Pangasius, though I cannot be sure which genus or species. There are over 20 species and several genera in the family. Most of the species are not native to Malaysia, but since they are widely farmed in aquaculture, have been introduced to many countries, even in the Americas.
    That heron was certainly brave to attempt making a meal of that catfish. Though the spikes of Pangasius are not the most rigid nor venomous among the various catfishes, they are nevertheless significantly stiff and pose a formidable challenge to swallow. The commonly farmed Pangasius species grow to about 1 meter in length. But there are giants among other genera in the family that grow three times as long.
    By the way, catfish of the Pangasius family have neither scales nor scutes.

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