If chipmunks are a problem in your garden

Get one of these.

heron in the garden 2019
today’s heron

During the past week, a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) has been coming into our yard hunting chipmunks (Tamias striatus). [GRAPHIC WARNING – IF YOU DON’T WANT TO SEE A CHIPMUNK GET IT, DON’T LOOK TOO FAR DOWN THIS POST.]

I’ve been noticing this behavior each spring/summer lately, so I checked my files and found the earliest picture I had of one in the yard was 2013 – that was before the shop was built (2016) and before the gardens went in, starting about the same time. 

So for at least nine years there’s been a heron stalking small mammals in the yard.

The shop functions as an excellent blind for viewing & photographing these birds. If you have the patience. Sometimes it takes 30 minutes for the heron to get in position, sometimes only 5. And sometimes the slightest movement from me – and off they go.

empty handed, so to speak

This week, out the back windows I saw the heron come into the garden. So I got in position inside the shop and waited for it to make its way to the bird feeders.

through the garden

I got lucky & got the shots as it found its prey under the bird feeders.

Even I won’t post the photos of what happens next – the heron takes the chipmunk & drowns it before swallowing it. My kids hate that I watch this drama, they think I should scare the heron away. But it’s the only chance I get to see a heron up close – they spook so easily otherwise.

Is it the same heron all these years? Well, it certainly could be. Or it isn’t. Take your pick. The longest-living great blue heron on record was about 23-24 years old. They typically live about 15 years, according to some websites I saw. But those same sites pointed out that many birds don’t live through their first year, including herons. 

I was only in the shop a few hours yesterday and a heron was here at least 3 times. Scored once, got spooked away twice. But who knows how many times there’s a heron there when I’m not looking? I looked out from the house last evening as I was writing this post & it was back. And there’s parts of the yard I can’t see from the shop or the house…and there’s chipmunks all over.

under the feeders, from the house

The photo below is post-bath in the river, coming looking for another meal.

They’re here year-round, night & day. Our river is tidal so they feed according to the tides. Except in the garden. One of the best overall sites I read about them was here https://www.heronconservation.org/herons-of-the-world/list-of-herons/great-blue-heron/

There I read about their feeding sites – “These herons typically defend their feeding sites, either a large territory held alone or individual areas when feeding in an aggregation. Territories are defended in both winter and summer. In Oregon, territories averaged 8.4 ha on the coast and 0.6 ha inland; In Canada, males defended territories while females and juveniles fed communally (Butler 1992).”

I thought that I only ever see multiple herons in the autumn, and one-heron-at-a-time otherwise. But I knew of the photo below and when I found it saw it’s dated early August. But maybe this is the juveniles and females.

4 herons

18 thoughts on “If chipmunks are a problem in your garden

  1. Great photos of a very secretive bird. Most don’t know about herons eating small mammals like ground squirrels or moles. We had one coming to our koi pond. I had to work quickly to build an unsightly grid of treated lumber over it to prevent decimation of the school. Had a red shouldered hawk eyeing them for a while but he lost interest since the grey squirrel population is pretty flush. Had an Osprey aerie couple years ago atop an unused crane at the boatyard across the pike along the Ohio river in Jeffersonville IN. Although I saw one eyeing the pond I never saw one attempt to thread the needle to get between the 2×4’s to get to the koi. They raised 2 chicks that year but the boatyard was sold and the cranes were cut up for scrap… too bad.
    I do enjoy your interesting bird posts along with the woodworking.

    • Fishing line over the pond is what keeps our goldfish safe from the heron. As awesome as they are to see, they can wipe out a pond quickly. And they tend to start with the biggest, prettiest fish first.

  2. That’s fascinating. This winter I got some video from my balcony of a red tailed hawk tearing apart a squirrel’s nest. The squirrels had incorporated a layer of grocery bags, so it got tangled in the shredded plastic and gave up. Glad to see you have herons there. I’ve only seen a few in Toronto’s Humber river this year. Last year it was full of blue, green herons and snowy egrets. I’m worried the avian flu has done them all in.

  3. The herons go after gophers out here in coastal northern CA. It always makes me happy to see them stalking around in the neighborhood, since I’m pretty sure that under about the first 8-10″ of topsoil it’s just solid gophers here. No chipmunks in this particular neck of the woods, for which small favor I’m grateful.

  4. That’s a nice little slice of heaven you’ve got there Peter. Comfy workshop, garden, birds of all kinds, and the living and dying circle of life. I like the home I am in the suburbs and probably won’t move given semi-retirement activities are nicely set up for me here (volunteer work at my local church, teaching college chemistry and my almamater, woodworking in my garage, woodworking club, extended family, mild winters, nice small town downtown, etc). If I were to move, it would akin to what you have. My wife and I want to redo the yard so it is more drought tolerant as we get no summer rain and winter to summer water bills go form $50 to over $400. Things I’d like in a new garden would be something that attracts more butterflies and birds.

  5. Well, the heron’s got to eat— morally speaking, I think you’re in the clear.

    Really fascinating shots, Peter! It’s easy to forget these beautiful birds are, for the smaller among us, merciless predators.

  6. Thanks for the “Trigger Warning”, Peter! The photos were great. I always enjoy your birdwatching posts. I could use a Great Blue in my yard. I just had a chipmunk run through my feet….

  7. Best remembered event from one of the conferences I attended: a buzzard disemboweling a pigeon right next to the entrance in a small corner between the two doors, since it was all glass we could watch from the inside. The buzzard did not mind the attention at all though we were only an arm’s length away.

    No herons in our garden, but I see them when biking home quite often, especially at harvest time. Dozens of herons and storks stalking the fields just after the combine went through.

  8. We had two long-term heron rookeries here in the Kent Valley (Puget Sound) where I worked. One was substantial with several dozen nests. One rookerie was next to my commute, a fast, busy freeway. Watching the birds was a dangerous pastime. The rookeries were lost to development and eagles snatching pre-fledged young.

  9. I have fished a river close to home for years, and it is home to the herons. One spot has a large stump that somehow got lodged in the middle of a run, and is always occupied by a blue heron in the evening. We always do the same dance. I stop and watch him for a while and move closer slowly while fishing the run. Eventually, he takes off and circles behind me and waits for me to pass. Then takes up residence again on the stump. It is always a highlight of the evening.

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