While green herons didn’t make this list of Top 25 Most Intelligent Nonhuman 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 12 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.
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,
If spotting herons in the wild is your passion, look into our China trip and our Galapagos Islands cruises and tours.
I saw a juvenile green heron do the exact same thing, a little more elegantly, at the pond at the Arboretum business park in Austin, Texas.
Green Herons are a tool user and noted in many science publications. Being a Nature Wildlife photographer I have seen the Green Heron capture a dragonfly and then find a pond location, then use the dragonfly by resting it on the edge of a lily pad leaf. The fish sees the wings reflect in light and the fish comes to the surface lured to eat the dragonfly, only to be eaten by the Green Heron! It is thought the Green Heron have been tool users for hundreds of years.
I love this video and use it with students to teach about challenging anthropocentric assumptions.
Cleverness and innovations are not the privilege to the only humans.
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.
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.
As Darwin said / may have said; ………. nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.
Had seen this months earlier.. it represents another example of behaviors yet to be identified with many species..many treats await us :).
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.)
Thanks Candice – that was quite something!
Crows are known to perform the same behaviour, which is slightly more unusual.
It also waited until a suitable sized fish appeared.
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.
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.
Actually it was mind boggling!!! I put it on my Facebook page to share. Many thanks!!!!
very clever bird
t is these little incidences or rather events we notice in other creatures that make wildlife interesting.
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!
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.
Thanks Candice. The intelligent among us never ceases to amaze me.
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!
fish = excellent source of protein.
bread = carbs and certainly not part of a heron’s natural diet.
Really anybody can feel the nature with biodiversity really amazing.
“Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day – teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.”