PHOTOS: Birdwatchers Capture Bear Up ‘Four Stories’ in Narrow Tree

by Jon D. B.

Every Outsider knows black bears are extraordinary climbers. But this birder’s photos show an absolutely next-level ascent!

While birdwatching with his mates in Ontario, Canada, photographer Ken MacDonald found fewer great blue herons than expected. What he saw in their stead, however, was something this author & wildlife tech isn’t sure has ever been captured on camera before.

Much to his disbelief, MacDonald spotted a large black bear perched atop one of the nests. Not just any nest, though. It was a heron nest atop an incredibly thin tree – standing over four stories tall.

“How do I report this on eBird?” he jokes on his June 8 Facebook post.

“We had an unusual sighting at our favourite heronry in Severn township, Ontario Canada today,” he begins of the remarkable encounter – and resulting photos seen below.

“The heronry didn’t seem quite as busy as it was earlier in the spring, perhaps for good reason,” MacDonald continues. We can’t imagine many herons wanting to nest amidst a black bear, either:

“We hung around for quite some time as we would loved to have seen the bear make its way down. I assume it wasn’t into high diving,” MacDonald quips of the unbelievable sight.

“Surprisingly the adult birds didn’t seem to be putting up any defense, though everyone on the pond was quiet and watchful,” he adds.

Photographer May Have Captured Black Bear Feeding in Four-Story Heron Nest

As is often the case with nature, MacDonald’s photographs do come with a dark side. Speaking to For The Win Outdoors, the outdoorsman clarified that while the bear’s “four or five story” ascent was incredible – the motives behind it were a bit less appealing.

“We couldn’t see chicks in the nest that the bear was sitting in but it did seem to be nosing down into the nest and feeding,” MacDonald tells FTW. Such is the circle of life.

MacDonald adds that the black bear was also “looking at the nest below and behind it, but it would have had to climb back down and then up another tree” to get to other feeding spots.

Great blue herons are a prolific, widespread, and fascinating species found across North America. Personally, I’ve spent years researching and photographing the species, as they’re a personal favorite. And any time I’ve ever been lucky enough to spot a nesting colony, it comes with incredibly aggressive parental herons. Great blues are large birds with enormous, sharp beaks and a 6-foot (sometimes more) wingspan. In short: you don’t want to be on the wrong end of one!

So it comes as a surprise to hear MacDonald say that the herons weren’t even attempting to topple the black bear feeding on their young. He does say, however, that “all the birds in the neighborhood were silent and watchful…”

“We wondered if some adults might attack the bear as it made its descent but we weren’t able to hang around long enough to see that,” he concludes for FTW.

As for that descent – seeing the entire tree this black bear managed to scale puts everything into perspective. Check out Ken MacDonald’s “full context” shot below – it’s an absolutely stellar capture:

Ken’s photos come from a heron nesting colony in Ontario’s Severn township, and we can’t thank him enough for sharing.

What an incredible encounter!