Video: A Green Heron Fishes with Bread Bait

Candice Gaukel Andrews January 14, 2014 24

Green herons know how to use bait to fish. ©John T. Andrews

While green herons didn’t make this list of Top 25 Most Intelligent Non-Human Animals, one particular green heron recently demonstrated why these birds make a good candidate for inclusion.

Watch the video below, in which a green heron uses a piece of bread as fishing bait. It’s theorized that the bird got the idea by watching anglers do similar things by chucking bread into the water or using maggots or worms on their their hooks to tempt fish in.

According to the BBC, herons are the bait-fishing champions of the bird world. Of the twelve species of bird known to use bait as a tool to catch fish, seven belong to the heron family. Across the planet, these birds have learned that places where humans regularly feed ducks and swans — usually with bread — are great places to fish.

blue heron

A blue heron strides across a beach in the Galápagos. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews.

So, why didn’t the heron just eat the bread rather than exchange it for a fish? We can only speculate that the heron knows that fish protein provides a better source of energy than carbohydrates, thus it’s worth sacrificing the piece of bread for the fish.

If you have your own hypothesis — or other examples of smart bird behavior you’ve witnessed — do let us know!

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,

Candy

If spotting herons in the wild is your passion, look into our trips to China and our Galápagos Islands cruises and tours.

24 Comments »

  1. Rebecca A. Martusewicz February 6, 2014 at 5:20 am - Reply

    I love this video and use it with students to teach about challenging anthropocentric assumptions.

  2. Dieudonné BIZIMANA February 4, 2014 at 10:40 am - Reply

    Cleverness and innovations are not the privilege to the only humans.

  3. NAILAH BAHALWAN February 2, 2014 at 11:43 am - Reply

    Very smart.

  4. ian wickison January 29, 2014 at 2:59 pm - Reply

    This is a very common practice by these herons. We have the Striated Heron (Butorides striata) on our lake here in Brazil. I photographed an adult who used fish pellets as bait . It watched the fish feeding on the pellets for a few days and when out photographing the Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) a week later I observed the heron bait fishing with a good success rate.

    Certain birds are great users of tools to assist in their feeding paterns.

  5. Wim Spronk January 27, 2014 at 9:15 am - Reply

    Your Green Heron has a distant cousin here in South Africa. The Green Backed Heron. Please watch my video “The First Fisherman” (You Tube Wim Spronk) and see how it places the bait upstream like a Fly Fisherman and how it protects the bait from fish that are too big for it to handle. I have since read of many other larger herons that use this technique. This is true intelligence as against instinctive behaviour. I would like to make a video on bird intelligence. Whilst on holiday in America I saw and videoed Boattailed Graggles open the hatch in the fishfeeding machine near a lake. As soon as I put in my coin and stepped back they were there to open the hatch and collect the food. This is another wonderful example of bird intelligence. There were many pigeons walking around picking up scraps of the fish food but not a single one would think of opening that hatch.

  6. Thomas Sheehan January 26, 2014 at 5:24 pm - Reply

    As Darwin said / may have said; ………. nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.

  7. Dan Nedrelo January 26, 2014 at 5:19 pm - Reply

    Had seen this months earlier.. it represents another example of behaviors yet to be identified with many species..many treats await us :).

  8. Ashley Mecum January 26, 2014 at 5:07 pm - Reply

    Well, the term “bird brain” is certainly not appropriate in it’s original context, with many species. Would this be considered a form of Tool use? (Seeing as it would be very possible for the heron to eat the bread, whether is was comparable to a fish or not.)

  9. Marjorie (Margie) Campaigne January 26, 2014 at 5:02 pm - Reply

    Thanks Candice – that was quite something!

  10. Laurence Hutchinson January 26, 2014 at 4:58 pm - Reply

    Crows are known to perform the same behaviour, which is slightly more unusual.

  11. Kim McClymont January 26, 2014 at 4:54 pm - Reply

    It also waited until a suitable sized fish appeared.

  12. Andree Parker January 26, 2014 at 4:49 pm - Reply

    very surprised to see that sort of behaviour but then we should not be too amazed but wildlife can be very intelligent and also mimic humans. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Judy Hoy January 26, 2014 at 4:38 pm - Reply

    I am always amazed by animals, but not surprised. When I was just a little kid I gave my animal friends intelligence tests, which they passed with flying colors. Even my pet chickens were really smart. I was not so impressed with the people who kept telling me that my animal friends couldn’t think, reason, have feelings, etc. I didn’t believe those people and I couldn’t understand why they didn’t see how intelligent the animals are. It is so wonderful that there is photographic proof and recognition of how smart animals really are, especially the beautiful intelligent birds that used to be called “bird brains” in a very derogatory way. I consider being called a bird brain to be a compliment.

  14. Tristam Sculthorpe January 26, 2014 at 4:35 pm - Reply

    Actually it was mind boggling!!! I put it on my Facebook page to share. Many thanks!!!!

  15. Olddawg Photography Olddawg January 16, 2014 at 1:04 pm - Reply

    very clever bird

  16. Emmanuel Sitayo January 16, 2014 at 1:03 pm - Reply

    Incredible!

  17. Lawan Bukar Marguba January 16, 2014 at 1:02 pm - Reply

    t is these little incidences or rather events we notice in other creatures that make wildlife interesting.

  18. Russell Donnelly January 16, 2014 at 1:01 pm - Reply

    Hello; Well let’s see ? ! What ranks more favorably; the biscuit or the steak ?! 🙂 Animal behavior has certain ancestral inherited traits; looking for the better meal opportunity is one trait shared by all species! This heron was pretty ingenious in the pursuit. Thank You for the video; quite entertaining!

  19. Michael Klein January 16, 2014 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    Well, thank you, Candice, for sharing this with us. I’m not sure if the heron learned the behavior from humans, though. The way to test that hypothesis is to compare herons who can observe humans to herons who are isolated from humans. If only the herons who come in contact with humans develop this baiting behavior, then you might be onto something.

  20. Martin Urquhart January 16, 2014 at 12:57 pm - Reply

    Thanks Candice. The intelligent among us never ceases to amaze me.

  21. Nadine K January 16, 2014 at 12:57 pm - Reply

    Brilliant! Clever bird! (the Photographer too for realizing what was happening & having the wherewithall to capture it.) Animals are NOT dumb! They just speak a different language…one that we as humans would do very well to pay better attention to & learn! Instead of the incredible cruelties we heap upon all wild & domestic life, all we need to do is be smart enough to watch, listen, learn & apply! They really can teach us lot & I dare say we & our beleagured planet would be better off!

  22. Bill Shadel January 15, 2014 at 1:01 pm - Reply

    fish = excellent source of protein.
    bread = carbs and certainly not part of a heron’s natural diet.

  23. Dinesh Patel January 15, 2014 at 12:59 pm - Reply

    Really anybody can feel the nature with biodiversity really amazing.

  24. Vince Kuzdak January 15, 2014 at 5:50 am - Reply

    “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day – teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.”

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