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How to swallow a snake, whole

by CHRIS PETERSON
Editor | May 3, 2023 2:00 AM

So a few weeks ago I was sitting in a blind at a private pond watching a great blue heron.

It was just standing there, sorta doing nothing in a blue heron sorta way.

Herons apparently don’t eat painted turtles, because there were a bunch of them on a log at its feet.

I thought the heron might snag one, as they seemed like easy pickings, but while that long heron beak is certainly good at stabbing stuff, the heron way of eating isn’t exactly the way to down a turtle.

A turtle needs to be killed, then pried apart and eaten.

Herons don’t eat that way.

They kill, then swallow what they caught, whole.

There’s no delicate picking going on. I know this because I’ve watched them eat fish and just a few days before, I watched a heron eat a sizable vole.

The vole did its best to get away, but the heron thrashed it around in its rapier-like beak until it quit squirming, then down the hatch it went.

A heron’s neck can expand greatly to accommodate a meal, and the vole seemed to go down fairly easily. I have never swallowed a vole whole, of course. The closest I’ve ever come is maybe half a hot dog.

But I digress.

On this day, I thought the heron may have met its match. The bird went from a statue-like posture to full alert in a few seconds. It scampered down the log, turtles went flying and the bird grabbed an 18-inch snake out of the water.

The snake was none too pleased and wrapped itself around the heron’s peak.

The heron flew across the pond to shallower water and then began thrashing the snake. The snake, to its credit, coiled back.

The heron would drop the snake, pick it up, thrash it around, then drop it again and thrash it some more.

The snake wasn’t much for dying however, and at one point, I thought it might actually get away, though even if it did, I didn’t expect to live long. The heron must have broken nearly every bone in its body.

Still, it took awhile for the snake to become completely limp. But then, like the vole, the heron swallowed it ­ head first and whole.

Yum.