Monday 19 February 2018

Herons Letting Themselves Down

Remember those far-off days when herons were mysterious and elusive birds, dwellers in remote watery places, rarely encountered and, when spotted, quick to take off and fly away? Seeing one at all was an event, and there was a magic in their angular primeval appearance, their improbable expanse of wing ('the heron shakes out his pac-a-mac of wings'), heavy flight and length of leg and beak. There was no other bird like it in this country – and that is still the case, though the broadly similar egrets are making inroads.
 Now, however, herons are so numerous that seeing one – for anyone who keeps even half an eye open for bird life – is very far from being an event. And, what's worse, the herons have lost all their shyness around humans and joined the ever swelling ranks of loud, aggressive suburban scavengers. In my local park (the one with the most water), there was great excitement yesterday afternoon as a dozen and more herons gathered on a lawn where someone was scattering bread around in considerable quantities. I've seen plenty of herons in the park before, stalking in the shallows, perching in the trees and  hanging around on the edges of the regular crow-gull-pigeon-duck-squirrel-goose feeding frenzies. But this lot were something else. These herons were mobbing their benefactor, fighting with each other, shrieking and flapping their huge wings, and seeing off all smaller birds in their eagerness to stuff themselves with all the food available.
 This display of ruffianly behaviour was an ugly and depressing sight – and no doubt a sign of things to come. The herons are taking over. I just hope the infinitely cleverer crows are busy planning a sustained counter-offensive.


  1. I'm not sure why Herons are now to be found in such numbers - but as you mentioned your 'local park', perhaps the locals that inhabit the greensward, are overfeeding these animals; after all, they will eat almost anything offered to them, encouraging others to join in the feast.
    Out here in La-La-Land, with no parks outside cities and towns, herons still appear in one's and two's (never more) around rivers and estuaries, hanging around as they did in Britain a few decades ago, looking for an opportunist meal, and still playing Emmerdale to the crow's Eastenders.
    Most corvids, as you suggest Nige, appear intelligently aggressive and, around my manor anyway (thanks Grant) will harry any intruders, even the larger raptors.

  2. Yes indeed Mm - from Emmerdalers to EastEnders. I think what first brought them back to the Thames and tributaries was the fact that suddenly the water was clean and contained fish - and people were putting ponds and 'water features' in their gardens (remember Charlie Dimmock?). The clean rivers brought back cormorants too, but at least they've kept to their Emmerdale ways (as have the egrets, so far). I guess herons have just been too successful, and pressure of numbers is turning them into aggressive louts.