Readers’ wildlife videos

Tara Tanaka (Vimeo page here, flickr page here) was so stimulated by some of the comments on her recent video—remarks about why a fishing egret would bob its head and neck—that she produced a new one, also showing a piscivorous bird (an American bittern) swaying its head and neck. I asked her how she thought this behavior was adaptive (if it is), and she replied: “I did some very minimal research, and it’s said to imitate grass swaying in the wind – which makes perfect sense for the Bittern; however, it seems to me that the Great Egret may be trying to distract the prey with the movement of its very visible neck, but that’s just my 2 cents.”

Here are the Vimeo notes; be sure to watch with sound on and the video enlarged:

I had so many comments on the way that the Great Egret moved its head and neck in the Great Backyard Bird Count video that I decided to reach back into some five-year old American Bittern footage that I’d been meaning to edit to show the master of bird swaying.

I regularly change the speed in my videos depending on what effect I’m trying to achieve, but I did want to mention that the flight scene at the very end was slowed down by 50 percent. The Little Blue Heron actually flies at the speed depicted in this clip, but the American Bittern has a very fast wing beat, twice as fast as in this video.

By the way, I’ve also discovered that Tara has a pair of cowboy boots, which are nice ones. Here they are, along with her omnipresent binoculars:


  1. rickflick
    Posted February 23, 2020 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Very nice. I think the movement is adaptive and imitates the motion of grass or reeds moving in the wind.

  2. Posted February 23, 2020 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Very nice. The bittern is keeping its head perfectly still, while swaying its body. Note its front has boldly contrasting vertical stripes. Speculating freely, I would agree that it is imitating the movements of grass.

  3. sted24
    Posted February 23, 2020 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Wonderful video, as ever. But I don’t think it is correct to say the bittern is “swaying its head and neck”. Rather, the neck and body are moving while the head remains absolutely still–example of head stabilisation which many predatory birds can do. I think that is also what the egret is doing, although it is less clear.

    Note that if the adaptive explanations for the movements are correct–“Don’t look at the beak”–they use rather opposing techniques. The egret is saying “Look at this funny white thing” (distraction); the bittern “Nothing to look at here, just moving grass” (camouflage).

    The prof may have posted this wonderful demonstration of head stabilisation before (can’t remember), but it is interesting to compare it with the second (head on) shot in Tara’s video.

    • rickflick
      Posted February 23, 2020 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      The hawk video is a striking example of head stabilization. Chickens do much the same. Here’s one of a Kestrel:

      • sted24
        Posted February 23, 2020 at 11:33 am | Permalink

        Yes, that is very nice. And funnier!

        I’d meant to comment on your earlier video of ducklings leaping out of trees. Notice how often the camera managed to catch a duckling landing in close-up. Then I figured out what happened: “Point the camera at that little bit ground and I’ll drop the ducklings into shot…”

        • rickflick
          Posted February 23, 2020 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

          I think you’re right. There’s a lot of production effort in some of these nature films.

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