Great Blue Heron Chicks

Two great blue heron siblings huddle together as a strong wind blows across their nest
Two great blue heron siblings huddle together as a strong wind blows across their nest. Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with the EOS-7D. ISO 400. Evaluative metering 0 EV: 1/400 sec. at f/8

Recently I joined two photographer friends in photographing two large great blue heron nests. One nest (above) held two relatively young chicks, while the other housed three siblings who were almost ready to fledge. In the smaller nest, the two chicks waited and waited, but I never witnessed a parent return with food. The other nest, however, was a different story.

Three hungry great blue heron chicks eagerly await the return of a parent with food
Three hungry great blue heron chicks eagerly await the return of a parent with food. Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with the EOS-7D. ISO 500. Evaluative metering +1/3 EV: 1/2500 sec. at f/6.3

About ten minutes after ariving on site, we were rewarded with a parent’s return to feed its chicks. That was when the aggressive battle began.

An adult great blue heron returns to the nest to feed its hungry chicks
An adult great blue heron returns to the nest to feed its hungry chicks. Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with the EOS-7D. ISO 500. Evaluative metering +1/3 EV: 1/2000 sec. at f/6.3

As the parent was trying to regurgitate its meal for the hungry chicks, they took turns squawking in its face, demanding food.

Hungry great blue heron chicks surround the parent, begging to be fed
Hungry great blue heron chicks surround the parent, begging to be fed. Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with the EOS-7D. ISO 500. Evaluative metering +1/3 EV: 1/2500 sec. at f/6.3

When it took a while for the food to come up, the chicks got more aggressive. One would grab the parent around the beak, and yank its head down into the nest. When this didn’t work, one of the chicks bit around the parent’s neck and yanked at the throat. I was shocked to see such a display, but figured this kind of behavior fostered some of the competition amongst the siblings that would serve them out in the “real world”.

A great blue heron chick aggressively bites at the parents beak and neck, waiting to be fed
A great blue heron chick aggressively bites at the parents beak and neck, waiting to be fed. Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with the EOS-7D. ISO 500. Evaluative metering +1/3 EV: 1/2000 sec. at f/7.1

After the parent finally dumped the food at the bottom of the nest, it took off, presumably to continue to feed these young insatiable appetites. The youngsters continued to battle each other over the remnants until it was gone. The next time you see one of these seemingly docile creatures standing at the edge of a marsh, remember that they are also predators, trying to eke their own way through the world.