In March of 2009 I was photographing birds at the north beach of Fort De Soto County Park on the Gulf Coast of Florida. There were gulls, terns, blackbirds, shorebirds, pelicans and wading birds that were within easy reach of my lens.
As I sat on the warm sandy beach while photographing this Great Blue Heron it moved closer to me and then stopped. Then the heron started to retch and I thought at the time I was going to be able to photograph it expelling a pellet. The pellets contain bits of bone and fur that some bird species are unable to digest.
As I photographed the heron I could see an amber colored liquid blob emerge from the heron’s throat and although I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking at I knew without a doubt that it was not a pellet.
The strand of amber colored liquid dripped from the heron’s bill unto the sand and by then I wondered if what I was seeing was bile, at that time I wasn’t sure that herons or other birds even produced bile.
Bile in humans aids in digestion by breaking down lipids and I suppose it serves the same function in birds.
After the Great Blue Heron finished expelling the bile it rested on the beach and I was able to take a wonderful series of the heron right where I sat. I can’t imagine a heron in Utah moving that close to me, they are far more skittish and uncomfortable around humans here.
This was the only heron or bird that I had photographed expelling bile until last year.
Last September while I was photographing a perched Great Blue Heron at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge I thought it was going to expel a pellet when it began to retch on a metal pole. Then through my lens I could see an amber strand of liquid that dripped from the heron’s bill and reached all the way down to the top of the post.
I’m not a bird biologist so I am not 100% certain that what I saw and photographed was bile but I can’t think of anything else it could be. I have researched birds and bile on line and found that they do excrete bile from their pancreas and liver. Why they would expel it, I have no clue.
I have only seen and photographed these two Great Blue Herons expelling bile in Florida and Utah. I now wonder how often this occurs.
Birds fascinate me.
Glen A. Fox posted this in the comments, apparently it is not bile but stomach juice:
What you are seeing is stomach juice, based on my many years of working on fish-eating birds. Bird bile is a very dark green. This not an abnormal phenomenon. Great that you are so observant and curious!
Life is good.