Intelligent Little Herons
Con Foley was witness to the incident of the Little Heron (Butorides striatus) using pieces of bread visitors fed to ducks to fish at the Singapore Botanic Gardens and added: “A bit of googling reveals that this is a well known, documented and researched behavior, and Little Herons and their cousins in North America and elsewhere exhibit this behavior all around the world. They didn't just learn it in Singapore, too bad. Actually, using bread is done because it is easily available in the Botanic Gardens, but they will use any small piece of leaf, bug, twig, etc, as bait to catch fish. From what I've read, Little Herons are one of the few "tool using" birds that will use a tool to accomplish a task. A bit more googling reveals that it has been reported that Black-crowned Night Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) also exhibit this behavior, although I haven't seen it. At the Botanic Gardens my observation is that the juvenille bird would do this, but the adult wouldn't be bothered. You can tell the birds apart by coloration.”
Hung Bun Tang wrote in on 14th Nov 2005: “It is exciting to know that someone has observed the baiting behaviour of the Little Heron. Thanks Subaraj and Jacqueline for sharing. I did a little search and found an article on "The feeding behaviour of North American herons." The following paragraph from the article by JA Kushlan should be interesting - it mentions the baiting method of the Green-backed Heron (same as Littlie or Striated Heron, I believe)."
Stand or stalk feeding: In stand and wait a heron stands motionless in water or on land waiting for prey to approach. There are two basic postures. In upright posture the body is held erect, head and neck are fully extended angled away from the body. In crouched posture, the body is held horizontal to the perch or the water, legs are bent, and the head and neck are partially retracted. Upright stand and wait is epitomized by the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) while crouched stand and wait characterizes the Green Heron. Intermediate postures may also be used. Several variations of stand and wait behavior are recognizable. In bill vibrating, a heron in crouched posture stands with bill tip submerged in water and rapidly opens and closes its bill creating a disturbance that attracts prey. This behavior is probably what Buckley and Buckley (1968) called tongue flicking. In baiting, a heron feeding by stand and wait places bait in the water to attract prey to its feeding location. Lovell described the Green Heron as persistently returning bait to a position under its feeding perch. In standing flycatching, a heron using stand and wait behavior catches flying insects. In gleaning, a heron picks prey from objects above the ground or water.
Tang further added: “It should be interesting to record such behaviour of birds on video. I have seen someone using a digital camera with a video mode connected to a spotting-scope. What I have now is a digicam with a teleconvertor attached. Ong Kiem Sian's setup (spotting-scope + video camera) is also inspiring. I really want to try out this "videoscoping" technique to capture bird behaviour in movie.”
Input by Con Foley and Hung Bun Tang, image by YC.