Deadly on Turf

The bird holds absolutely still
With an explosive backthrust of the wings, the neck whips forward
The bird has a small rodent, apparently by one leg
Swiftly airborne, the bird flies to the water’s edge
Now the bird has improved its grip; the rodent is pinched by the throat
Ready to dip the rodent into the water
Holding the prey underwater for a second or two. The bird does this twice. 
A final squeeze to align the prey for swallowing
Down the hatch!
A drink or rinse of water afterward
Back into the bushes for more

Yesterday I wondered whether a Great Egret would hunt on land as well as on water.  This afternoon I had my question answered.  While I was watching a sleepy pair of Mallards on the edge of the glass beach just north of the Schoolhouse Creek outfall, a Great Egret flew in, landed on the beach, and stalked deliberately uphill off the beach into the bushy grasslands behind.  It found a spot of interest facing some bushes, grew immobile except for an ever so slight undulation of its mile-long neck, but then relaxed and stalked off to another spot a few yards away.  Again, it froze.  And then, a lighting whip of the neck, boosted by an explosive backthrust of the wings, and a careless rodent in the bush found itself pinched between the prongs of a deadly pair of needle nose pliers.  In one motion, the bird leaped into the air and, with a quick flap of its wings, landed on the beach at water’s edge.  It swiftly dipped the rodent into the water.  Was this to drown the prey, as some hawks are said to do?  Or was this some compulsive cleanliness routine? Or just to lubricate the prey for easier swallowing?  Some weeks ago, I saw and photographed an egret do the same dipping ritual with a fish it had caught. After two dips, the end came without further play. One powerful full body squeeze, and then down the hatch.  After it straightened its neck, with the lump absorbed, the bird dipped its beak into the water, either to drink or to rinse its gullet.  That done, the big bird headed back into the bush to look for a chaser.  My takeaway:  the Great Egret is a threat on both turf and surf.  

See other stories about the Great Egret on this website.

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