Man is the only animal that can remain on friendly terms with the victims he intends to eat until he eats them.
— Samuel Butler
As I processed that photo of a great egret (Ardea alba) perched on a log with a couple of Texas river cooters (Pseudemys texana), I giggled at the thought of the egret trying to munch on one of the turtles. Obviously the size of the reptiles would prohibit that. But the same could not be said of a small turtle I watched become breakfast for a yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea).
Along the bank of one of the nearby creeks, a bit of movement caught my eye. It was the night-heron trying to eat something. I couldn’t quite determine what was in its beak.
The bird dipped it in the water, bludgeoned it against a rock, tossed it to and fro, and appeared to be resigned to not eating it since it couldn’t break it open.
It was at this point that I got a better look at the food and realized it was a small turtle. Here’s a crop of that image.
You can see the legs sticking out and the head hanging down, though the whole thing is covered with mud and identifying marks are obscured. Still, it was definitely a turtle.
It seemed too large to swallow whole, and the bird had struggled with it for several minutes such that I felt certain it would give up. After all the banging and washing, the carapace remained intact. Unless the heron could pull the flesh from the shell by the dangling bits, it seemed breakfast would not be served this day.
In one swift move, down it went. The whole turtle. Shell and all.
After which the heron turned, took a drink of water, and proceeded to look quite satisfied.
It stood around for a while after that. I’d probably need a rest, too, if I’d spent all that time and energy trying to break open breakfast only to swallow something as hard as a brick lest I be forced to give up the entire meal.
I was left to wonder how long it would take to digest the intact turtle. And some time later, I was left to giggle at the thought of that scene as I watched the egret and its turtle companions.