Heron Sunning Postures aka Flasher Pose

Great Blue Heron in Sunning posture along the evocative St. Johns River
Great Blue Heron Sunning along the St. Johns River

The first time I saw a bird standing with its wings spread, wing tips drooped down, and its belly feathers puffed out I was sure it was looking for a mate! I remember thinking it was so unusual that I looked around me to see if anyone else was there to witness this rare event. I knew nothing of heron mating displays but those files were henceforth given file names like ‘Great White Heron-Flasher Pose!’ Seeing this magnificent subject of fine art paintings in such an indelicate stance was a revelation to a newbie bird watcher.

Accustomed to seeing Anhingas and Cormorants standing on marine pilings with their wings spread in the sun drying their feathers, it was just unexpected to see the posture in a great heron. Spread-wing postures seem to serve different purposes in different species and it is seen in pelicans, storks, herons, vultures, hawks and even small songbirds which puff out their belly feathers with wings extended.

For example, Turkey Vultures employ the posture for both thermoregulation and drying. Their body temperature is maintained at a lower level at night than during the day. Morning wing-spread behavior is a means of absorbing solar energy and passively raising their temperature to proper daytime levels.

Anhingas have rather low metabolic rates along with high rates of heat loss from their bodies. Wet or dry, they display spread-wing postures when there is bright sunlight and cool ambient temperatures. Generally they orient themselves with their backs to the sun to offset the heat loss. Since their plumage is wettable but not water-repellent this dries the feathers and is also thought to realign the feathers and to force parasites into motion for easier removal.  Cormorants, on the other hand, use spread-wing postures only for drying their wings and not for thermoregulation. Only the outer portion of the Cormorant feathers is wettable, so they maintain an insulating layer of air next to the skin when swimming underwater.

The observed Flasher Pose in the herons is one of their maintenance behaviors. I have never seen this pose in a heron that it was not facing the sun. The sunning or wing drying stance does not appear to be strictly  for thermoregulation or drying in the herons. In fact many times when I’ve seen herons do this they exhibit cooling behaviours such as rapid breathing with the mouth open and vibration of the throat at the same time as they are wing-spread facing the sun. So it seems logical that the bird keeps itself cool while setting up a hostile temperature for the parasites or other pests. Once on the move the bugs are more accessible and easier to remove during preening.

Even with detailed observations recorded in volumes of ornithological research down the ages, it seems many observations are couched in words like seems or apparently or thought to be. We will always be looking for reasons in the realm of instinctual behaviour. It could very well be that herons sun themselves because it feels good. How do you measure mood in a bird?

Great Blue Heron Sunning - Indian River-Merritt Island
 Great Blue Heron Sunning along the Indian River in Merritt Island

Night Heron Sunning - his come hither Flasher Pose :)

Oh Baby!!

Night Heron  “Flasher Pose”  🙂

GWH Flasher_4894-s
 This was the Great White Heron I first saw in the wing-spread sunning stance. It looks beautiful no matter what pose it assumes.

Great White Heron Sunning with Wings Spread - front feathers puffed
Great White Heron in a private mangrove setting sunning. You can see how puffed out the belly feathers are into almose a column like shape.

Great White Heron in Sunning Posture Wing Spread with front feathers puffed
 Closer up front view of the sunning posture reported to aid the bird in ridding itself of parasites. The solar heat put the parasites in motion for easier removal during preening. The Great White Herons are often seen with ticks in the feathers.

Great White Heron Sunning along Florida Bay
 I was so impressed with the new found pose that I moved all around for various angles even though at the time I felt I was intruding on private seclusion.

Thanks,

Judy

Source Credits:

Heron Conservation – with behaviors terminology pdf

Stanford Essays

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~ by Judy on April 7, 2013.

26 Responses to “Heron Sunning Postures aka Flasher Pose”

  1. every single image begs to be studied and admired! they’re all beautiful and stunning. what an amazing collection you have!
    z

    • Thanks so much!! There is so much out there to see and learn from really. I am so fond of the Great White Herons and relish any time I have the opportunity to be around them!

  2. Beautiful stuff…glad I found your site.

  3. …. Judy, that was a great article! I remember sending you a pic of a GBH a few months back – and you answered me then. Funny, I have never seen that pose again from a Great Blue – but the vultures do it all the time. Anyway, great shots of a very unusual pose.

    • Oh, I was just waiting for you to comment so I could tell you that I posted this specifically because of your question awhile back. Figured if someone like yourself who does love and watch birds quite a bit was unfamiliar with the thoughts on what the pose was…… and also remembering how I reacted the first time seeing it….that maybe some others might be curious too about the thinking on it. So glad you enjoyed the explanation and accompanying images!! 🙂

      • …. OK, picture a GBH with a sourpuss expression on the face, with hands -er- wings on hips, loudly complaining about the HOWWIBLE soivice in this restaurant …. Wait, that’s not a GBHeron – that’s me mother-in-law! 😀 .. .. Glad to have been an instigator, ma’am.

  4. I have seen a Great Blue in this pose once, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what was going on. As I remember, it was summer time. He was facing the sun, as a matter of fact. I’d seen the cormorants drying their wings, but the Heron clearly wasn’t doing that.

    By the time I saw the Heron, I’d figured out that mallards breathe through their beaks to help with cooling, so I assumed maybe that’s what the Heron was up to, too.

    One interesting note is that I just was talking with someone about the “old days” when we’d shine flashlights into our mouths or behind our ears to see our veins. That same phenomenon makes the last photo a stunner – the translucent feathers look like alabaster.

    Beautiful!

    • I’ve always liked backlit translucence of wings or leaves or yes the veins of the ear with a flashlight!! LOL!! Gosh I do remember doing stuff like that too!! Kids are natural scientists always experimenting and seeing for themselves!!

  5. Hello! It goes without saying that I like what you’re doing. You make the bloggosphere bigger, badder, better. Congrats and keep it up, and have an Epically Awesome Award of Epic Awesomeness award on me!

    Colin.

    Rules:
    1. Write ten awesome facts about yourself.
2. Nominate ten other bloggers that you think are awesome enough to win this award.
3. Inform the chosen they have won.

    • It is Epically Awesome that you enjoyed the view of my neck of the woods and wanted to let me know in this way!! Thank you!

  6. Wow, so cool, Judy! The last photo is particularly amazing with the sun coming through the feathers. Incredible!

    • Birds are such lovely creatures even when gulping down large fish or wriggly eels and things…so they are fun subjects and maybe we are all just fascinated with beings that can soar!! You have no idea the number of times I have dreamt I could fly and loved it !! So easy in dreams!

  7. Ha! Love the flasher pose! Terrific photos!

  8. birds are very beautiful, in my country I have never met, I’d be happy always visit here

    • Oh, one of the wonderful things about WordPress is that we can show each other our own parts of the planet. Not only show pictures but since it is a writing medium, also our voice through the words. Thank you for sharing yours!!

  9. FANTASTIC! What a wonderful piece.

    I have one…not-so-great…capture of this pose, from afar. And I was convinced something was wrong with the GBH (he was a young’un), since I hadn’t encountered it often. My worried brain went to *all* kinds of crazy places. But yep, he was facing the sun, and just as mellow as could be!

    Wonderful!!

    • I know what you mean..when you see a bird hold its wings in a awkward way, it looks hurt in some way and so you feel bad. Who knew they like to stand in the sun and poof out their feathers!! But heating up the pests seems so likely since birds also spend a lot of time scratching on account of unwanted critters along for the ride.

  10. I learning so much,,,,reading about your shots….
    I’m currently living at The Great Outdoors RV Resort. There are many birds here and I’m enjoying learning about them…Thank you for educating me!
    My best to you,
    Deb Dikeman

  11. […] sunning postures start much earlier in the life of a bird than I had realized!! The dominant nestling takes the front […]

  12. […] If I called the feather drying, parasite moving posture of wings spread while facing the sun the ‘sunning posture’, then the last image below is the ‘shading posture.’ I actually did not realize until I […]

  13. Well, who knew they were such exhibitionists!

    • LOL!! Too tru! I didn’t know what to think at first. But, they start young with the wing spread postures. I even saw a month old wood stork in the sunning posture the other day.

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