Yesterday I posted a sleepy Great Horned Owl photographed fours years ago in Montana and what I didn’t mention is that I don’t get many opportunities to photograph these large owls very often, sometimes it only happens once or twice a year.
But yesterday I saw a Great Blue Heron out in the open in the marsh of Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge on the south side of the auto tour route. For a split second I looked down at my camera to check my settings and when I looked back up the heron was gone. I felt some disappointment but thought maybe the heron had just moved a little and because of that I kept my eye out for it further up the road. Just a little bit further up the road I saw a shape, feather patterns and face that I recognized immediately but it wasn’t a heron at all.
What I found was a beautiful Great Horned Owl nearly hidden in the vegetation along the marsh! I’d never seen a Great Horned Owl at Bear River before so I was ecstatic and took way too many photos of it but it isn’t every day I spot this species of owl in a marsh, so why not?
I have that Great Blue Heron and my keen eyesight to thank for finding the owl because if it hadn’t been for it and trying to locate it again I might not have been paying such close attention to the area I found this owl in. Thanks Great Blue!
Now onto my main subjects for this post. Before finding the Great Horned Owl I was photographing shorebirds at the southwest corner of the auto tour route on the refuge. I saw two American Avocets close to each other and decided to take a few shots of them even though I didn’t think much of the setting because it looked messy but the light was good and I had willing subjects.
When I saw the male fluff up his feathers I thought I might get a nice wing lift because avocets often do that after they shake their feathers so I kept my focus on him.
The male placed his head in the water instead and the female lifted her wings and moved in front of the male. The behavior wasn’t typical for this time of the year so I kept photographing the pair of avocets.
And then the male American Avocet began to attack the female. You can see his bill open near her left wing but he didn’t grab or stab her wing…
Instead he wrapped his bill around the female’s neck and used it to pin her head down and get the upper hand in his attack.
It appeared that the female struggled against the aggressive behavior of the male but he was the one who seemed determined to keep the power…
And the male American Avocet pushed the female’s head under the water and held it there and shook his bill side to side.
All during the time that this was taking place I hadn’t determined the sexes of my subjects, I was too focused on capturing the action, I didn’t pay any attention to the sexes until I got home and viewed these images.
When the female’s head came up above the water it was easy to see that the male still had what appeared to be a very strong grip on the female’s neck.
And he kept that grip as her head shook around. I don’t know if she was moving her head or if he was moving his bill as part of his aggression.
But the male American Avocet kept attacking the female with his bill.
The female was able to stand up and lifted her body out of the water even while the male continued to grasp her neck. Right after this image was taken the female pulled away from the male, he lost his grip on her neck and the two avocets parted ways and the female moved several feet away from the male.
Then they both went back to foraging for food.
Quite frankly I don’t know what this aggressive behavior was about. From what I read on Birds of North America online is that physical interactions are common during the wing and early spring and tend to be associated with pairing. But the breeding season for American Avocets is over here now in Northern Utah so I am not inclined to think this was about pairing up. I am unable to find information on line about why this male American Avocet attacked the female so aggressively but I can say that it was fascinating to see and photograph it.
If any one can tell me what this degree of aggressive behavior was about outside of the breeding season I would love to know!
I never know what I am going to see when I go out into the field and that is one small part of why I am so passionate about photographing birds.
Birds are fascinating. Life is good.