[Tweeters] FW: [envirotalk] murder on East Bay Drive

Guttman, Burt GuttmanB at evergreen.edu
Thu Sep 15 19:27:40 PDT 2005

This was passed on to me, and it's so weird that I felt I must send it on to Tweeters for comments and a possible explanation.  East Bay Drive is the street running along one side of our local inlet of Puget Sound.
Burt Guttman
The Evergreen State College
Olympia, WA 98505      guttmanb at evergreen.edu
Home:  7334 Holmes Island Road S. E., Olympia, 98503


-----Original Message-----
From: envirotalk at yahoogroups.com [mailto:envirotalk at yahoogroups.com] On
Behalf Of Peggy Bruton
Sent: Tuesday, September 13, 2005 10:24 PM
To: envirotalk at yahoogroups.com
Subject: [envirotalk] murder on East Bay Drive

Hi folks:

I witnessed a murder today. The perpetrator just strolled away after it
was done.

Here's what we saw from our deck, around 10 this morning. We were
watching fish leaping, seals playing, families of mergansers swimming
by, and a great blue heron roosting on our little sailboat resting at
low tide on the intertidal mud. Nice peaceful tableau. Then there's a
big cacophonous squawking on the mud a bit to the south, and it seems
the heron has moved down there to land on top of another heron, the
latter obviously displeased. Hmmm, we thought, a heron mating in
progress. Top heron nips at the neck of lower heron, clearly
recognizable mating behavior.

But something doesn't seem right. The squawking goes on and the biting
looks like something other than foreplay. Vicious, until lower heron is
lying splayed in the mud, struggling to get up. But top heron is not
having any of it, keeps up the neck biting until the victim is lying
quite still. We're still rooting for her to get up and get washed and
fly off when the killer begins stabbing -- multiple ferocious thrusts of
the beak to the head, presumably the eye, of the victim. That's the coup
de grace. Apparently to make sure he's done, he grabs the middle of her
neck -- by then as limp as well-done spaghetti -- in his beak and lifts
it up so her dead head hangs straight down, making an acute angle from
his grip. Then he drops it and strolls calmly off into the shallows
where a flock of mallards are dabbling about.

I have never before seen LIVE any animal, human or otherwise, dispatch a
conspecific. Yet I know many do; Jane Goodall documented war among the
great apes she studied, and of course there are battles to the death
between dominant males and contenders for that rank within many
communities of large mammals. Still, I found this scene unsettling. So
entirely unprovoked. Was it indeed just a courtship gone sour? Would a
female's rejection really evoke lethal violence from a suitor?

Who has a guess? I have no idea what was going on or why, and the perp
will never talk. I hope one of you veteran wildlife observers or
students of bird behavior might have some inklings you can share.



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