Fish Eating Birds: Tricks and Techinques
Fishing Techniques of Birds
I think all of us know there are birds which eat fish but did you ever stop to think about the different techniques they use to catch the fish?
Today I would like to share with you a few observations, some from our home here in Brazil where we have several species of birds which eat fish.
The Striated Heron (Butorides striata)
It is easy to think that the birds just stab at the water and catch a fish. It is true, many of them do this but not all.
Let's take for example the heron. We have a few different types here at on my farm, including the Striated Heron.
This bird normally prefers to do his hunting from the bank. He will sit still waiting for a fish to swim by and then stab at the water. This usually brings back a fish for him.
However, we have seen the heron using bait to attract fish. He will place this on top of the water and wait for a fish to come up for it, and when it does, it is good-bye fish.
This was a learned behavior which we saw develop during the time we were farming tilapia. Our feeding times were the same daily and the heron would watch us throw the floating fish food pellets onto the water. The ravenous fish would cause the water to look like it was boiling as they broke the surface to suck in a pellet. The heron soon learned those pellets attracted fish so when a fish food pellet would float to the side, he quickly seized it to use for his own benefit to lure a fish to him.
The Egrets In Brazil
Although we have three types of egrets here, the Great Egret (Ardea Alba), the Snowy Egret (Egretta thula),and the Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis), I will only be discussing the first two which are daily visitors to our lakes.
At first glance you might think that their bright white coloring is too visible and offers them no camouflage whatsoever. In fact, the opposite is true. If you have ever been underwater and looked up, the bright light is almost blinding, this is the egret's camouflage as their white feathers are virtually lost in the glare of the sunlight.
With their long legs, these birds are more accustomed to wading into deeper water than their cousins the Striated Herons.
In the shallows however, we have seen the Snowy Egrets perform an interesting maneuver. They will shake a foot in the shallow water disturbing the leaves, plants and silt. Any fish which are hiding in there shoot out and are eagerly consumed. Another behavior we witnessed with the snowy egrets was a group herding of fish. As our lakes became shallow, several snowy egrets stood in curved line and slowing herded the fish towards the bank and into a corner, in essence trapping them for easy catching.
Often the Egrets will wade in to their bellies and stand erect, their neck outstretched waiting and watching. Striking the water and pulling out a fish. This is joggled around to be consumed, head first which ensures the dorsal fin can't splay out causing them injury. A quick drink of water and they are ready to go hunting again.
We have only seen cormorants here a few times. This is a bird I know from the UK where they are hated by the local fisherman because they will decimate the population of fish in the lakes and rivers. Sometimes they will catch so many fish they can't fly. These birds are relentless in their pursuit of fish.
It is for this reason people use them to assist them in fishing. Below the video highlights how man has used the natural instinct of these birds to help them and the people of their villages.
The cormorants, like many other birds such the penguins, once underwater propel themselves using their feet and wings which assists them in the capture of their prey.
The Osprey uses another technique, it uses its talons to pull the fish from the water. As it descends towards the water keeping its prey in sight, the feet open like the landing gear of a plane. These sharp talons are then thrust into the water grabbing and closing on the unsuspecting fish.
Sometimes their fish is so large and strong it takes considerable effort to rise from the water.
How Kingfishers Catch Fish
Here we have three types of kingfishers. The Amazon Kingfisher, the Ringed Kingfisher , and the Green Kingfisher (Chloroceryle Americana).
These are rather shy around people but are daily visitors here.
We have positioned posts in the water for them to use for perching. Sometimes they will dive from these but more often than not, they will just rest, eat and preen on them.
Their normal method of hunting is hovering high above the water until they pull their wings back and perform a free fall dive head first towards their target. Although they don't always catch one, in my opinion, they have a higher success rate than the other birds here.
Of late we have noticed them diving from the shore. Perhaps they have been watching the herons.
Often they will fly, either to the post, or a tree with their catch. If their fish is quite large, they will bash it against the tree branch to kill it.
One of our mango trees, near the water's edge, is a favorite place for them to sit. Beneath it, we often find pellets of fish scales and bones which the kingfishers have coughed up.These are the bits their bodies can't digest.
Pelicans have been known to uses several methods to obtain fish. With the assistance of other pelicans they have been known to herd small shoals of fish into a small area and then using their huge mouths like a scoop, filling their pouch with fish. They will also dive from the air to catch their prey.
You can probably think of many other birds which use these methods of catching fish. Some birds will use more than one method to catch fish.
Another method I didn't mention is theft. Often birds will steal a freshly caught fish from one another. This is one of the reasons, why some will take their bounty and fly away with it.