Great Egret Fishing At Lema Ranch

by Larry Jordan on October 14, 2010

Great Egret Portrait photos by Larry Jordan

While scouting Lema Ranch for an upcoming bird walk to kick off the Northern California Audubon Chapter Council meeting, hosted by Wintu Audubon, October 23rd, I spotted a Great Egret (the organizational symbol of the National Audubon Society) fishing the channel between Lema Pond and Hidden Pond.  I slowly set up my camera near the bank and allowed the bird to make its way toward me.  The photo above was taken as the egret stepped into the open.

I took this shot through the various plants along the shore as the great fisher bird approached my location.  Notice that when you view the Great Egret from the front, the eyes are set to look partially forward and down similar to the Green Heron.

I watched this bird fish for about 45 minutes, using several different fishing styles.  It was a warm and calm day, the water, like glass.  The photo below was taken as he or she was using the “slow walk” foraging technique, where they peer down into the water as they slowly walk the shoreline.  I liked the way the sun shone through the bird’s eye.

It caught several fish and amphibians using this method

then stopped to do a bit of scratching.

This Great Egret also practiced the “stand and wait” fishing technique most bird watchers have probably seen being used by herons and other wading birds as well.  This tried and true fishing method was also a great success.

As it turned the fish around to go down head first

and then tilted its head up to swallow it

The foraging technique I had never seen before involved the Great Egret standing still but moving its outstretched neck back and forth in a rhythmic motion while keeping its head fairly still.  I don’t know if this allows them a better view of their prey or if it is used to lure the fish.  This is what the pose looks like with the bird’s head slightly tilted.

I recorded a video clip to show this technique, unknown to me before seeing this bird use it.  It’s not the greatest video but you can see the strange neck motion used, the head plunge into the water and voilà, another fish.

I have more photos of some of the other 36 species I observed yesterday at Lema Ranch coming up in future posts.  Until then, here is this beautiful bird in graceful flight.

Check out more cool photos at Bird Photography Weekly.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Klaus October 15, 2010 at 4:43 am

Niiice! Good job on the Great Egret!


Corey October 15, 2010 at 4:54 am

It is almost as if the egret were hypnotizing the fish with its neck-movements. Obviously that is not was is happening, but maybe it is some kind of warm-up or stretching? Who knows? Cool video, whatever the heck the bird is doing.

Also like that first shot showing the position of the bird’s eyes.


OpposableChums October 15, 2010 at 5:22 am

It does seem like the neck movements are somehow attracting or luring the fish. Or imitating a swaying reed? But how/why would that attract a fish?

Whatever it was doing, it worked!

I’ve never seen that behavior before. Thanks for the great video.


Dawn Fine October 15, 2010 at 6:04 am

Hee hee..Great video! Liked that straight on neck and eye shot and the last photo.great captures all..
looking forward to more.


NatureFootstep October 15, 2010 at 7:09 am

egrets are one of my favourites since I first saw them in Camargue. This time I just adore the second photo. It looks like an ostrich with that long neck looking into the camera.


Bird Feeders October 15, 2010 at 11:33 am

Great shots! Also fantastic information on the various feeding behaviors, the video is fascinating. I most appreciated the second photograph as I have never been aware of the particular eye positioning of these birds, thanks for sharing, very informative!


Birding is Fun! October 15, 2010 at 3:25 pm

Fantastic photo series Larry!


Larry October 16, 2010 at 10:27 pm

@Klaus thanks!

@Corey yeah, pretty interesting technique all right. I saw this behavior near the end of my 45 minute observation

@Jason I wonder if the neck movement masked the egret’s presence somehow?

@Dawn thank you. More of the Lema Ranch photos coming. I also watched Wood Ducks hunting damselflies!

@NF I thought the straight on view of the head was interesting too

@Chantelle thank you. I love sharing!

@Robert thanks


Mick October 16, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Great photos Larry. I have watched Egrets stalking fish and also standing still to catch fish but have never seen that neck-waving before. Very interesting observations.


Neil October 16, 2010 at 10:47 pm

Beautiful photos Larry that is one long neck and a great video as well.


Mike B. October 17, 2010 at 8:39 am

Great post Larry! Loved the video- what a hunting strategy…


Phil October 17, 2010 at 10:33 am

A lovely series of photos Larry, and I like your explanatory notes too. The video is pretttty cool too. Thanks for sharing all of this information with us.


Kelly October 17, 2010 at 4:32 pm

…the video is great! I haven’t seen that motion either. Love the photos with the fish in his bill. I always love the head-on eye shots…


vickie October 17, 2010 at 5:23 pm

Super cool, Larry! What an interesting bit of behavior. Terrific images and post.


bob k October 17, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Another outstanding series of photographs (and video) of the Great Egret, Larry. Your posts are always educational and informative. Keep ’em coming!


Larry October 18, 2010 at 8:27 pm

@Mick thanks. I thought it rather unusual too

@Neil thank you very much

@Mike interesting strategy huh?

@Phil thank you very much. I had a tough time trying to get the entire bird in the video because it was so close

@Kelly thanks. I felt very good about getting the shots with the fish and got some very blurry photos with frogs in the bill

@Vickie thank you very much

@Bob thank you, I will keep them coming as long as I can 😉


Halcyon October 19, 2010 at 5:05 am

Great shots! I especially love the one with his neck extended. They are such beautiful birds!


Scott October 20, 2010 at 1:06 pm

Excellent! I keep coming back to that unique shot with the egret looking straight towards you/camera. It’s as if a mythical creature is rising out of the depths of the greenery.


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