The other day I made a break from our surprise eight inches (20 cm) of April snow here in southeast Michigan. In search of a warmer climate I drove nine hours south down to Great Smoky Mountains National Park along the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. Near my destination I noticed this Great Blue Heron (Pelecaniformes: Ardeidae: Ardea herodias) make a landing on a rock in the Pigeon River, so I stopped to take a few photos. Although the heron was cool, I was almost equally thrilled with the trees that were leafing out at this southern latitude.
While zoomed out to photograph the trees I missed the heron snagging a fish from the river, but caught it mid-meal. These birds are interesting ambush predators. An individual will stand motionless along the water for what seems like an eternity, keeping a patient eye out for a snack. In an instant they can strike out, grab their prey, and just as quickly swallow it whole.
Although these large birds are often seen along rivers and wetlands feeding on fish, they can also be found in meadows and fields snacking on small amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. Their sharp, strong beaks are well-adapted to quickly stabbing, mashing, and engulfing any prey they can catch.