Great Blue Heron Captures and Consumes a Rabbit

I'll start this tale by suggesting that it may not be suitable for those who are bunny-lovers or squeamish when it comes to graphic nature images.

Today, while birding at Fanno Creek wetlands behind Koll Business Center southwest of Portland, Oregon, Shawneen Finnegan, Bjorn Hinrichs and I simultaneously noticed a series of loud squeals coming from the deep reed canary grass just downslope from where we were standing. None of us recognized the source of the sound initially. About the time that I was realizing that the noise was coming from a distressed animal, Shawneen spotted an adult Great Blue Heron with a sizeable prey item in its beak. She called out to us that the heron had caught a rabbit and was carrying it by the loose skin on the back of its head.

As the three of us watched, the heron walked a short way and disappeared behind a tall mound of grass. All the while the rabbit continued making horrific noises. During the time it took me to move down the bank a ways to get a clear view, the heron flew across the pond and landed about 100yds away. It proceeded to dunk the rabbit several times until, mercifully, the rabbit expired.


After flying across the pond, the heron submerged the rabbit several times until it ceased struggling.

Once the rabbit was deceased, we were left to wonder if and how the heron would be able to swallow its prey. It took a few moments of adjusting and aligning, but once the dispatched rabbit was lined up head first, it only took the heron about three large gulps to swallow the carcass whole.


Photo caption here...


With one final gulp the heron swallowed its prey whole. The neck of the heron looked swollen (below) for a few minutes, but a short while later we saw the heron fly back across the pond and its neck was back to normal thickness.


This rather grim episode served to remind us of the razor thin margin between life and death in the natural world. On many occasions I've watched Great Blue Herons "mousing" in the short-grass fields in Oregon's Willamette Valley during winter. I've seen them take fairly large voles and also watched Great Blues choke down some fish that seemed too large for them to swallow. This was easily the largest mammal that I've ever seen one kill or swallow. Part of me didn't want to watch, but it was impossible to ignore the struggle and the heron's impressive ability to swallow a small rabbit whole. It was probably best that the heron flew across the pond with its prey, thus my distant, blurry photos are a little less graphic.