Blue herons nesting over Detroit River seen killing each other

A disturbing scene is playing out in the trees over Stony Island in the Detroit River where great blue herons like to nest and raise their young. 

While their parents stand idly by, their kids can be seen violently pecking each other.

FOX 2 photographer Coulter Stuart captured several instances of one sibling attacking another. 

It's not uncommon for one to die as a result. The carcass of a chick thrown from a nest could be seen caught in the branches below the heron rookery on the island. 

But it's also not abnormal behavior. Ornithologists frequently see the etiquette among birds, especially when food is scarce.

"It's a cold hard cruel world out there and lots of things happen that make us uncomfortable, but that's the way the world works," said Dr. Kevin J. McGowan, who works at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Southeast Michigan is a major aviary hub due to its proximity to water as a source of food for migratory birds. Great Blue Herons are among the species that build nests on the islands that dot the Detroit River. 

Blue herons peck at each other on a nest on Stony Island, which is in the Detroit River.  (Photo credit: Coulter Stuart)

McGowan said birds often lay more eggs than necessary as a means of ensuring some survive. During years of plentiful food, all young can expect to grow into adults and leave the nest. But if there isn't enough food, the chicks may resort to more gruesome means. 

"The smallest is there to survive if it's a good year and not if it's not," he said. 


Beavers reclaiming land on abandoned island in Detroit River

Beaver sightings in Southeast Michigan have risen over the past few years. A trail camera captured one fortifying its den on Stony Island.