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Ecotourism on Florida's Space Coast

The Heron and the Snake

by Betty Salter

Great Blue Heron On weekends my husband and I teach visitors to our wildlife refuge about birds. One of the things I tell our visitors is that they should take time and watch the behaviors of individual birds. Like people, birds have different personalities.

On one of these outings, as we were stopped at a spot where there was a good number of birds, several of the visitors got very excited. It was time to move on, but the sight was too interesting to leave. We were running late and the lunch hour was approaching; but as hungry as everyone was, they all wanted to stay and watch a Great blue heron have its lunch.

When I saw what they were looking at I had to agree. A handsome Great blue heron stood at the edge of the water with its long neck stretched out and its proud head held high; dangling from its bill, twisting this way and that, was a mud snake.

The heron was determined to have lunch and the snake was determined to be free. As we watched, the heron shook the snake fiercely then dunked it into the water. Still the snake wiggled and tried to free itself.

Great Blue Heron & snake As the heron lifted its head in preparation to swallow, the snake wrapped its body around the heron's bill. Now, the bird could not swallow it; but the snake could not get away either. We began to wonder who would win.

The heron began to open and close its bill, loosening the snake. Shaking its head, the heron continued to work its bill open and shut. We could see the snake beginning to let go. With a flip of its head the heron had the snake's head down his throat. The snake's long body hung beside the heron's long neck.

The snake's tail twitched and wrapped around the heron's neck. As the tail and more of the body wound round and round that long elegant neck, we thought perhaps the snake would win after all. We could see the feathers part as the snake's body wrapped more and more tightly around the heron's neck. Then the heron shook its head and neck vigorously, throwing the snake up into the air only to have it come back down and land in the water at the heron's feet. Wasting no time the heron grabbed the snake behind its head and tossed it into the air. When the snake came down, the heron had its bill open and swallowed the first six inches of the snake. Determined not to have a snake get the best of it, the heron quickly thrust its head upward and gulped down another six inches of the hapless snake.

We stood staring and marveled at the heron's determination as it worked the wiggling lunch down its throat until all that hung out of the heron's bill was a few inches of the snake's tail, and then even that was gone. So awed were we by what we had just seen that we could not take our eyes off the heron's neck as that wiggling lump was slowly moved down that slender neck.

The wind gusted and we walked back to the van to head back to the visitor center. We saw many beautiful and a few rare birds, but the one we will all remember is that heron who would not give up.

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