Dubai: For the first time in the UAE, a Grey Heron has been spotted eating a Eurasian Collared Dove, which is one for the record books, says a prominent wildlife expert in Dubai.
While Grey Herons are known to satiate their enormous appetites by downing fish, small animals and the odd marine bird such as ducklings head first, their swallowing non aquatic birds is a rare sight, according to Dr. Mohammad Ali Reza Khan, principal wildlife specialist at Dubai Safari and Dubai Municipality.
Dr Khan said in his six years of birdwatching at the hugely popular Al Qudra Lake in the Al Marmoum Area of Bab Al Shams Desert, he has never seen such a sight.
“It is a very unusual thing,” Dr Khan told Gulf News on Wednesday. “I’ve never seen this before in this country. I couldn’t believe my eyes.”
The moment captured on film is important, he said, because it marks another aspect in the behaviour of the migrating Grey Heron while visiting the UAE and gives wildlife experts a wider view of the bird’s eating habits.
Grey Herons are unmistakably easy to recognise, with their spear-like bills which they use to strike fish and small prey along the shores of wetlands, where there lie in wait motionless for their unsuspecting quarry.
Dr Khan said “seeing Grey Herons eating crabs and frogs is very common” in other countries but swallowing a dove whole is one for the record books in the UAE’s natural history digest.
It demonstrates that the Grey Heron’s diet is not only comprised of fish which are common in Al Qudra Lake, after it was introduced there in recent years to feed a long list of migrating and permanent bird species in the desert oasis.
“As the lake is laden with introduced Tilapia fish, many fish-eating birds are visiting the lake or are permanently staying there and breeding for the last few years,” Dr Khan said.
“I have almost always seen Grey Herons catching fish and eating them. There are records of Grey Herons eating ducklings and the young of other water birds, when they need to catch prey for more than 18 hours a day. At night, they catch any small animal they can find within their vicinity. But I’ve never seen a heron trying to catch or eat a dead dove.”
“Today, while on several rounds of the lake, I have found a Grey Heron with dead Eurasian Collared Dove in its bills. I am not sure whether it had actively killed the dove or picked up a dead one. However, as we started our rounds of the lake by 6.30am and made several rounds, we did not see any dead bird near water. But all doves in the area come to drink water from the lake shore every now and then and the heron might have killed an unsuspecting dove.”
“As far as I know, this is the first instance of a grey heron eating a dove in the UAE and possibly in the world,” he said.
A quick check on the internet revealed there have been instances of Grey Herons eating doves, but there is no mention of it occurring in the UAE.