by Bryce W. Robinson
While photographing a vagrant juvenile Green Heron (Butorides virescens anthonyi) along the Boise River in early November, I noticed a behavior I wasn’t aware of for this species. When I would get a bit too close the heron would notice me, stop foraging, and flick it’s tail while it slowly walked away, as if it had a nervous tick.
Tail flicking is a behavior that many species exhibit. A recent study with the Black Phoebe found support for the explanation that tail flicking was a sign of vigilance to predators, a topic I’ve written about here. When the bird flicked its tail, the predator got the cue that the bird was aware of its presence and the predator had lost the advantage of surprise. This seemed to make sense in explaining the behavior of the Green Heron I stalked on the Boise River. Each time it began flicking its tail, I’d let off until it relaxed and continued to forage.