Is a heron really a bird?

A rather poor shot of the heron poised to strike in the burn this morning

A rather poor shot of the heron poised to strike in the burn this morning

The heron is visiting our burn almost daily now: in fact it was even in the burn in the dark last night, only flying off when, as I walked down the drive, the lights came on. It was back again this morning, standing almost under the bridge that carries the main road over the burn. As I watched it I was reminded of an amusing incident when I was teaching two classes in a Dundee city centre primary school about wildlife and associated crime. The tale is told in my first book, Wildlife Detective.


“Not unsurprisingly, the wildlife knowledge level of the 10 year-olds was quite low. One of my first questions to them as they sat cross-legged on the floor of the gym was, ‘Can you name three birds you might expect to see on your way to school?’ Silence. Not a peep! I re-phrased the question, ‘Among the whole class, can we name three types of birds?’ Silence initially and I was at the stage that I was expecting someone to say, ‘A big bird, a middle-sized bird and a wee bird!’ After all they are three types of birds. Anyway the answer was forthcoming – eventually. A crow, a seagull and a robin. So far so good.

My next question was of the same type, but requested the names of three kinds of trees. Collectively, a Christmas tree was all they could muster. I was confident these pupils would benefit from my input over the next eight or nine months. My last question was, ‘Can anyone give me the name of a bird in Scotland that would eat fish?’ I looked round the sea of faces ready for a hand to shoot into the air. Arms remained firmly folded or hands remained hidden in pockets. I looked at the two teachers for some indication that one of them was ready to vent her knowledge. There was no such sign. Clearly no such knowledge was available.

Two women were sitting at the back of the gymnasium and I thought that two or more of the kids in the classes may have been their offspring. The meeker of the two tentatively raised her hand to about ear level. She had an answer but didn’t know if it was accurate. ‘Give it a go, Mrs,’ I thought to myself, though what came out was, ‘Do you know the answer?’

She should have had the confidence to shout her answer out loudly as it was absolutely correct, but instead she whispered submissively, ‘a heron.’ I was about to congratulate her superb ornithological knowledge but the portly woman sitting beside her got in before me. Ridiculing her already self-conscious friend, she stated with authority, ‘Naw Jessie, heron ur fish’.”

See Wildlife Detective and other books on this blog. If you would like a signed copy contact me on

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