Black Heron Canopy Feeding

Black Heron Canopy Feeding
Black Heron or Egret canopy feeding

If you watch animals in the wild finding food, you will see some amazing techniques that are hard to believe could be the product of blind chance. In many cases, the food-finding system has so many parts that it would take various simultaneous changes for them to happen by chance. Securing food is often hazardous for the animal, but eating is a higher priority than avoiding danger. An example of all this is the canopy feeding of the black heron (Egretta ardesiaca) in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The jet-black color of the black heron causes two problems for the bird. One is that there is no camouflage in its coloration, so predators have no trouble seeing it. The black heron is very obvious from above or on the ground. The other problem is that being black means the bird is in danger of overheating because black absorbs solar radiation in the form of heat.

These problems make you wonder about the wisdom of the black heron being black. This is where we find an ingenious design feature built into the bird, allowing it to have all it wants to eat. The black heron eats fish, but finding fish is challenging for all fish-eating birds. Black herons solve this problem by spreading out their feathers in an umbrella-like fashion for what is called canopy feeding. Small fish in the area looking for shade are drawn to the bird’s canopy. Because of its black color, the water under the bird is too dark for the fish to see the heron.

This cloak of darkness and the cooling create a huge attraction for fish. As they gather in the heron’s shade, the bird can simply choose which fish it wants to eat. This canopy feeding provides food for the heron while controlling the small fish population so they don’t overgraze the area.

To attribute the black heron’s canopy feeding to trial and error or chance requires some imagination. To attribute the black color, which seems counterproductive for the climate, to the survival of the fittest is beyond reasonable thinking. God’s design and creative wisdom are evident in all life forms. Romans 1:20 tells us that we can know there is a God through the things He has made, and the black heron is an excellent example of the truth of that statement.

— John N. Clayton © 2023

Reference: National Geographic, May 2023, page 20