The Heron and the Eel

I’ve photographed cormorants attempting this trick, but have never witnessed a heron attempting to subdue and swallow an eel. This was a chance encounter, at Seven Sisters early this morning.

It was – as it seems to be every day at the moment – overcast. I’d noticed the heron out of the corner of my eye as it landed on the meadow on the far side of the inlet. At first I thought it was pecking at a stick, but then looked closer.

heron and eel

The heron had caught an eel and was attempting to subdue and swallow it. What follows took place over about 10 minutes. The eel put up a good fight. Several times it had been all but swallowed before wriggling free. The heron dropped it several times, and the struggle would start again. The outcome was inevitable as the heron had sensibly brought the eel on to dry land.

heron and eel

The heron gets a good grip on the still lively eel.

heron and eel

Things look good for a quick finish.

heron and eel

Just one last gulp should do it.

heron and eel

No! Back to square one.

heron and eel

The eel makes another break for freedom.

heron and eel

Eventually, after numerous near misses, the eel succumbs.

heron and eel

And the heron, looking a little stiff-necked and somewhat stuffed, keeps very, very still.

Camera note: all photos taken with the Canon 7D Mark II and EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens.

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  1. Robin February 13, 2015 at 2:02 am #

    Words, Wow, great series! That’s certainly a mouthful! I can imaging that eel in the last shot still wiggling around down there!

    • Words February 16, 2015 at 12:10 am #

      Robin, the heron eventually walked very gingerly to the water’s edge for a drink. It was fascinating to watch, though only one outcome was possible.

  2. Colin February 14, 2015 at 12:09 pm #

    That’s quite something. Make’s me feel queasy thinking of all the wriggling going on inside that heron!

    • Words February 16, 2015 at 12:10 am #

      Colin, not too queasy I hope!

  3. Darko February 14, 2015 at 4:26 pm #

    Hahaha, what a nice catch – for both of you and heron 😀 This reminded me on a gull in Vancouver’s Stanely Park who tried (and succeeded) to swallow a starfish
    And on something that happened few days ago
    Both prey and hunter never seem to give up 🙂

    • Words February 16, 2015 at 12:12 am #

      Darko, I like your starfish shots, and the young one trying to do the same. It’s amazing what they can swallow. The video footage of the seal and the octopus is great. Thanks for that link.

  4. Kyle February 18, 2015 at 7:46 pm #

    Amazing capture! Wow that looks like a huge eel putting up some fight with the heron here! In the end the heron really prevailed and managed to gulp that entire thing and alive too?! I wonder if the poor eel stood any chance of escaping the hungry birds stomach if eaten I that condition or how even a bird can digest (if possible) something entirely? It must be a grim fate for the prey but the bird must have been hungry!

    • Words February 18, 2015 at 10:45 pm #

      Kyle, with a heron there’s plenty of neck room to swallow it! In water I suspect the eel would have escaped. It had no chance on dry land, despite escaping a couple of times. Gulls can manage it as well, which is even more surprising.

  5. Kyle February 18, 2015 at 7:50 pm #

    Sorry this is the correct email to reply as well 😉

  6. Kyle February 20, 2015 at 6:00 am #

    Oops I guess my comment didn’t post here it is again..

    Amazing capture here! That looks like a huge eel putting up some struggle here! So the heron managed to gulp it down and it was desperately wriggling about the whole way down that long neck?? I wonder how the bird manages to digest that whole thing or if the unlucky eel stand any chance of escaping the hungry birds stomach at that point?! Keep it up! 😉

    • Words February 20, 2015 at 9:43 pm #

      Don’t think it can escape once actually swallowed. I watched the heron for several more minutes, until it eventually flew off.