Marauding backyard bird–caught in the act!

All day long I looked forward to a quiet evening and was just sure I’d have enough time and energy to sit down and enjoy some blog reading.

I have a blog post in the making–which means I’m thinking about it–but tonight, I thought I’d just be quiet and do some reading. About 7:30 pm I went out on our deck and I was just getting settled when Karina came out to sit with me.

“Nan. Did you get Darwin in Africa?”

I spent the next three or four minutes explaining that although Darwin is an African Sulcata tortoise he was born in captivity. And no, I’ve never been to Africa.

She shifted the conversation to talk about our deceased Cockatiel, Kramer. Kramer died on Valentine’s Day two years ago when she was only three, but she loves to talk about her. Tonight’s conversation revolved around why I didn’t “let” her have babies. Karina remembers the many eggs Kramer produced, and I skirt the additional questions about why there weren’t any baby birds to be born.

I wasn’t expecting the next non sequitur. “Look Nan! There’s a swan.” I didn’t even shift my eyes towards the pond. We don’t have local swans. She’s a very imaginative child and I thought we were headed into a story. She repeated with more emphasis, “Look! A swan–or something!”

We are definitely city people.


This Black-crowned Night-Heron was almost two-feet long from tip of beak to tail feathers.

DSC_1135 Was he just going to walk the rails?

Not very likely. There are a few remaining goldfish in the pond.

Do I want to watch this? What will Karina think?

He was so intent on the water I had time to get my camera.

After watching the water for a few minutes he took flight, grabbing a handy perch in the oak tree, sitting for a good ten minutes just staring into the water. He did not care one whit about our conversation below or my photo snapping.

And then, all of a sudden, down he came, marching towards the water’s edge. “I know where this is going!”

Swift and brutal!

I’m wondering if Karina is going to be upset. I put my camera down and turn to her, expecting at least a look of revulsion.

“Nan, it looks like Papa is going to have to buy new fish!”



95 thoughts on “Marauding backyard bird–caught in the act!

  1. Good GRIEF, Debra !!! – how brutal ! How unexpected ! What a handsome marauder ! You’ll definitely have to put chicken wire over the pool when you replace . I’m rocked back on my heels by that – mostly by your swiftness of shutter. 🙂

    1. It was a rather brutal end for the poor fish! I was so surprised that the heron cooperated with my camera, M-R. I was quickly losing good light and had he been more active I don’t think I could have captured the shots that I did. But thank you!

  2. Great images of a smartly dressed bird Debra. Unfortunately Goldfish make very easy targets for Herons as they’re not very well camoflaged! I guess you can put an unsightly net over the pond or stand a plastic Heron next to it. Or you can accept that you’re going to get one of these beautiful visitors from time to time. Perhaps restocking with ordinary Carp and providing a plenty of vegetation in the water to give them cover is a good compromise – make the Heron work for its dinner!

    There are Night Herons in Europe and very occasionally they turn up in the UK – but I have yet to see one so I loved seeing such a wonderful bird through your post. Who knows, with the climate getting warmer perhaps they’ll appear more regularly in the future.

    1. I’m wondering about the climate, too, Martin. And then we have our drought, so perhaps many people aren’t maintaining their ponds and the birds are covering a wider swath. We have very inexpensive goldfish in the pond and plenty of lilies to protect–or at least so I thought! The fish that this big bird captured were very good sized, so I think they must be some of the older ones. I will comfort myself with thinking they had lived a long life–for a goldfish. 🙂

  3. Amazing ‘nature, raw in tooth and claw’ photos, Debra! What a beautiful bird, it’s a pity they are so attracted to urban ponds ~ we have the same problem in this country, which is why the previous owner filled in the fishpond in the front garden and planted dwarf conifers. It seems to be ‘bird season’ for us bloggers at the moment, whichever side of the ‘Big Pond’ we’ve made out nests! 😉

    1. One of our blogging friends said that she now has a “koi memorial garden” in her yard. She gave up on the fish! I have never seen anything nearly this raw and graphic in my backyard, Jacqueline, but I’m going to pay more attention now! I have always heard about the heron “fishing” in backyard ponds, but I haven’t experienced it before. It is bird season, isn’t it? 🙂

  4. Nature is relentless… In a perfect world, all beings ought to be self sustainable!
    I’ll stick to the beauty of your photos!!! Nice …’swan’!!! 😉
    Happy Wednesday, Debra! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Marina! I understand the watching from afar. 🙂 I had very mixed feelings about the whole affair, but at the same time quickly knew that the bird was hungry! I do think I need to help Karina with her bird identification. haha!

  5. Nows thew time to fill the pond with a fish one does not get attached to – so that you can sit and rather get attached to the herons and others that will come in to fish… I love the story and I love the photos… great post Debra…

    1. I was so fortunate to be close enough and at just the right time to capture the photos of the heron, Rob. I was thrilled! I agree with you, though, and I am sure we’ll restock the pond with fish. I would love to attract more birds like the heron. Now that I know it’s possible I am so eager to see what happens. 🙂

  6. M R wrote: “I’m rocked back on my heels by that – mostly by your swiftness of shutter.”
    Yes, your swiftness of shutter, I am astounded, how you managed to take that many great pictures.
    You really handle the camera well, Debra. I love Karina’s reaction: She’s a great kid!
    Thanks for sharing these lovely photos. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Uta. I took well over a hundred photos, and all weren’t great. LOL! I felt so fortunate! It helped that the heron stayed very still for many minutes at a time. He was just fascinating. It was so interesting. And yes, thank you, Karina is a character. She talks A LOT! In the course of a day she has so many things to share, and I’d say that most make me laugh. 🙂

  7. What a perfectly lovely bird, and doing what he/she was born to do….find and catch food. Um, Karina is right….Papa needs to get more fish.
    Have a lovely Wednesday, Debra!

    1. That’s right, Deb. You said it! The bird was doing what he was born to do! I am sure we’ll restock. I think it’s pretty fascinating and now I’m hooked on the evening action. LOL! Thanks for stopping by, my friend.

  8. Great pictures. We get herons in our pond occasionally although at 30″ with a quick drop off, it isn’t the configuration they like. We also have hidey spots for our fish and frogs. We occasionally lose one though. Our fish reproduce so it’s not a big deal unless it’s one of the fish I am attached to. We have about 35 fish so it’s nature. Sushi anyone?

    1. You have more fish than we have, Kate. I have lots of lilies and what I would have thought to be good hiding places, but this guy spent a good thirty minutes just staring until he was sure of easy pickings! I’m not accustomed to being witness to the backyard action, but now I’ll know to be “on the lookout.” 🙂

  9. Karina’s comment made me smile ~ not resisting the “what is.” Accepting the whole of nature.

    I’m glad that you had a chance to catch the capture and capture the catch.

    1. Karina is a lot more pragmatic than I would have thought. I was so happy that we could share this moment. I was very lucky that he was so intent on his dinner that he lingered long enough for a good photo shoot. 🙂

  10. What a wonderful back yard bird, and spectacular photos of the event and its logical conclusion!
    When I still had my koi pond I’d occasionally see a great blue heron in the yard, but I never saw him in action. A couple years ago raccoons finished off my dozen koi in just one night. I filled in the pond and now I call it the Koi Memorial Garden. I think restocking with plain old goldfish is actually a nicer idea….

    1. I love the “Koi Memorial Garden.” That’s just great. Our pond is simply stocked with plain old goldfish and they often disappear, but I presumed all were being snatched by raccoons. Apparently there is more urban wildlife close to home than I knew, Lori! I’ll be really alert now. 🙂

  11. Out of the mouths of babes! Sounds like Karina took it all in stride, Debra.
    What a magnificent backyard nature experience, though. I’ve only seen a Black crowned heron a few times, and not this close up and personal. This handsome marauder now knows where to get food. I wonder if others with ponds in your neighborhood have been experiencing a loss of fish. A few communities around here have had rather pesky problems with other heron who have been enjoying the pond features so much that they are now nesting in trees.
    Don’t be surprised if swans do show up one day. We were surprised to learn that a large flock of thirty or so black swans showed up this spring in one of the sloughs about 4 miles from here. They may have been off course in their migration, but, are not seen hereabouts.
    Thank you for such a well-wrought story, Debra, and for these photos. Wow!

    1. You know, Penny, given your story about swans, it does make me wonder if migratory patterns are simply shifting! Whether it’s our drought or other global issues, we’ve seen birds this spring I’ve never before seen, and I have never once seen a Black crowned heron. So it does bring a question about why now? I am really going to be even more alert now, I think! I do feel extraordinarily lucky to have captured the photos. It was just perfect timing! And Karina is still talking about it today, which is very special. 🙂

      1. It is such a blessing, Debra, that you and Karina could share this moment in time. She will always remember, and will have an interest in birds forevermore.
        There is a shift in migratory patterns, I’m sure, and I think your question bears attention. Why now? I do think this past winter, with cold and snow so far south, your drought, the big freeze up this way, all and other things took their toll, and that problem, whatever we call it, will not be going away soon. Still, I have hope. Oh, dear, now I’ve gone on and on, and all the while still excited at your Black crowned heron. 🙂

        1. Penny, I didn’t really stop to think about how this winter’s deep freeze so far south would indeed have an effect on migratory patterns! I’m just sure that has as much to do with it as anything else. I will “doubly” pay attention now and may need to scrutinize some identification books that enlarge the circle beyond California. I’d love to see something exotic. hahaha!

  12. This is so cool Debra! What a rare treat. I love herons. I just find them to be such fascinating creatures. They look almost prehistoric to me – especially when the fly. We have blue herons around us and they are just stunning. I’m glad Karina wasn’t upset by the bird snatching the fish. She reminds me of how Miss A would have reacted – very matter of fact. Love it! Have a wonderful day Debra.

    1. It’s nice to hear from you Kristy. 🙂 I’m still smiling at our exciting action from last night. I was surprised that Karina was so easy with it all. I think I expected her to at the very least be grossed out, but she really wasn’t. I have never seen a heron in our yard and now I want to sit outdoors every evening and see what I might have otherwise missed. 🙂 I hope you and your VERY busy family are doing well! ox

    1. We occasionally have raccoons, Lori, but I never see them. I just hear them and see the evidence. And I’ve never seen a heron in our yard. I am still just amazed that I had such a good front row seat. 🙂

  13. What a great story, Debra! It’s so true that you can’t always predict how kids handle these kind of things. We had baggies full of our deceased pet fish and mini frogs in the freezer for several years because even though my son knew they had a short lifespan he couldn’t bring himself to bury or flush them. One afternoon I found four 8 yr olds standing around the open freezer examining each little fish and frog!

    1. Oh you’ve given me such a chuckle! You were really tolerant and patient to keep the fish and frog in the freezer. I’m not sure I could do that. LOL! But I love that children are given permission to be curious and to in a way perform their own science experiments! Karina was so matter of fact about it all and she is still talking about it today. It was something special we shared, which is lovely. Thank you so much for your wonderful addition to the comments. 🙂

  14. Wonderful story, Debra. Children are much tougher and more realistic than we often give them credit for and this was a good chance for her to learn just a little about the harsher side of nature.

    That is one impressive-looking heron. We have a small pond and one day, many years ago, we came home to find a heron had taken all but two of our golden orfe. Sigh….

    1. I am so glad I could get a photo, Perpetua. When I first spied, or when Karina saw the “swan,” I immediately went for the camera just certain he wouldn’t be happy with all my movement and might fly away. Instead we had almost an hour of his antics. And Karina is still talking about it today, which I think is just so special. I think any of us with ponds have more visitors than we typically witness. We’ve had disappearing fish before, and now there are more than raccoon coming to the diner! 🙂

    1. Oh my but I would love to have seen your herons! I am now going to be ever more vigilant in keeping an eye out for my big guy’s possible return…maybe with some of his friends? 🙂 I had no idea we could attract something this size. I’m so glad you stopped by.

    1. Thea, I was just so lucky that the heron didn’t fly away while I ran for the camera. I had grabbed my phone and it didn’t have enough lens to do the trick! I felt very lucky to be there to witness. 🙂 Thank you for such a very nice comment.

  15. Oh my goodness! I thought for sure you were going to shoo him away from the fish! That photo of the heron walking the rails is so funny! Great photos. If you restock your pond, I have a feeling it’s going to become a “fast food” stopover for this guy! 😉

    1. I’m not sure about the restocking! I’ve known for a long time that some of our fish mysteriously disappear, but I’ve never seen any of the animals in action. Occasionally raccoons get in there and thrash around ruining my lilies. I contemplating “shooing” the big guy away, but in truth I knew that he had to eat, too. I just pretended I was one of those very stoic National Geographic photographers watching the lions eating gazelle. 🙂

    1. It was a very special moment for me, John. I’m glad you enjoyed it, too. I hope I have some more night visitors…although I’m not sure I feel all that comfortable with keeping the pond stocked just for my own amusement. That seems a little callous. 🙂

  16. Thanks for sharing this, Debra, both the tale and the photos, especially the photos!! Although we routinely saw, Great Egrets, Cattle Egrets, Great Blue Herons, and an occasional Green Heron when living in Charleston, the Night Herons somehow eluded me. I have never seen one, so your adventure was thoroughly appreciated here. Your granddaughter’s reaction to the end result is simply proof-positive to me that, as a general rule, children just don’t need as much coddling as we adults would like to think!

    1. Thank you, Karen. I’m so glad you could take a peek at this particular species of heron! I know that I am so often thrilled just to see photos of the birds and animals that live in other parts of the country or worldwide, and I so often think to myself that our “urban nature” isn’t very colorful or particularly exciting. This little guy really surprised me. Now I know we have more hiding up in the trees waiting for opportunity than I ever would have predicted. I’m going to pay even more attention now. 🙂 And you’re so right about the children, I do believe. In truth, I was a little apprehensive about what I was sure would come next. LOL! But Karina did take it all in stride. Thank you for stopping by, Karen. I enjoyed hearing from you!

    1. Isn’t the heron a great backyard find? I’m still so surprised and hoping he won’t be a stranger. 🙂 I’m glad you can enjoy some of the conversations I have with my granddaughters. They keep me so amused!

  17. Wow…it’s as if you styled the whole scene with your swift clicks! Great to hear you are in great company in your garden, sorry to hear about your fish though.

    1. You know, Cristine, I’m not totally clear myself on how I feel about the fish meets bird event. 🙂 I felt badly about the fish, but at the same time I was so completely taken with the bird I was simply an observer, thinking later. We haven’t had many fish in our pond because typically raccoons get in and just make a terrible mess of things. I never thought about birds! I wonder what I’d see if I just sat in my garden at dusk more often!

    1. With the drought and all I wonder about how urban wildlife are getting by and perhaps that’s why this interesting fellow made a visit. He was hungry! My lack of feeling for the poor fish kind of surprised me, quite frankly. I feel a little callous! But I was simply fascinated with watching the bird move so deliberately, honing in on his prey! I think we “city slickers” just don’t get opportunities to witness animals in action, too often. It felt like a privilege. 🙂

  18. I think it’s a good idea to let our children see and understand how nature works. But I am not sure I would have let the heron get away with my fish – if I had a goldfish pond, that is. I think it’s great that you let it happen for a valuable lesson for Karina. And you got some excellent photos of the culprit.

    1. I was quite surprised there were any fish in the pond, Otto. I thought that raccoons had taken the few remaining long ago! I was suspicious that there was something the bird had noticed, but the whole event was quite a surprise. I am not sure we’ll be restocking any time too, soon, however. That seems a little cold blooded to me. 🙂

  19. What a colourful swan! Oh dear! We used to have a fish pond and the kookaburras would be swirling overhead desperate to take our fish. In the end I covered the pond with a fine wire mesh otherwise the birds would have eaten the lot. Karina seems to have coped well with the tragedy and you certainly were quick with your camera to capture these images xx

    1. I didn’t even know we still had fish in the pond! We haven’t added any for at least a year, and I never see them under the lilies. Such a surprise all around. I was fascinated…the guilt didn’t come in until later. 🙂

  20. You have one firecracker there, Debra! Papa’s going to have to buy new fish! Hahahaha! And thank you for ID’ing the raiding bird. They do pop up here in Long Beach once in a great while but this is the first time I can really see what they look like thanks to your LAPD photography skills. You must be a forensic photographer! 🙂

    1. I haven’t seen the offending bird return, and I do wonder if he’s the one who previously took the few fish we keep in the pond. I am still just amazed at the whole experience. I took more than one hundred photos to end up with a few that were good, and I was really lucky that the ones with the fish came out alright. As often happens, I am aware of how we benefit from digital photography! 🙂 Not sure I’d be a very good forensic photographer. I get a little squeamish. 🙂

    1. No, I think that may have been the end for this particular bird, unless we go ahead and buy more fish! There were only a couple in the pond to begin with. 🙂 I keep thinking I may see him snooping a bit just to see if we’ve been shopping, but so far, no! 🙂 Thanks for the comment about the camera work. I got very lucky! I took dozens that were a complete bust. Ha!

  21. Wow, Debra, that’s one big bird! Poor fish. And aren’t kids a hoot?!

    Sorry to have been absent from the blogosphere recently. We were without internet for two weeks, and then I was in the US for nearly another two. Gosh, I’m glad to be home in Cuenca.

    Hugs from Ecuador,

  22. I’m sorry that I haven’t visited your blog for a little while. I just came back from my two-week vacation from Spain last week, now I’m busying with organizing my travel photos… This is such a beautiful post, love these bird captures, Debra!

  23. That’s a heron? Hmm, well maybe the bird I saw at a local park was a crane after all. I asked a semi-expert and she said we don’t have cranes in Indiana. How would they keep one out? Put up a sign saying “No Cranes Allowed!” ? So cranes can read? Anyway, how are you going to protect your goldfish? I was at the Lily estate here a few weeks ago and they have lots of fountains, etc. They had this very small pond with large goldfish in it so there must be a way to keep goldfish safe. It was somewhat hidden with a lot of bushes around it. Here’s a link that might help:
    This property was loaded with all kinds of trees and flora so there were birds around too. I had forgotten about it, I might do a post on it even though I wasn’t wild about my photos.

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  25. dandyknife

    What a great story! The photos, the set-up, the punchline. We used to see those birds when we walked the dogs along the Don River in Toronto. I didn’t know their range extended all the way to SoCal.

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