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Fish Eating Birds: Tricks and Techinques

Mary loves discovering new things and enjoys sharing these ideas with readers through her articles.

Fishing Techniques of Birds

I think all of us know there are birds that 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.

We have lakes at our home and it gives us the opportunity to watch feeding habits in the wild as opposed to an unnatural habitat such as a zoo or bird sanctuary.

Striated Heron (Butorides striata) with large tilapia

Striated Heron (Butorides striata) with large tilapia

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. Often the heron would be waiting for us to bring the fish food out. He waited on the edge of the bank until a pellet would float by. Instead of eating the fish pellet, he quickly seized it to use for his own benefit to lure a fish to him. He'd gently place it on the water and crouch down. If it was floating out too far, he'd go in the water and bring it back towards the bank.

Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) catching a fish

Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) catching a fish

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 of the sun 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 that are hiding in there shoot out and are eagerly consumed.

Another behavior we witnessed with the snowy egrets was a group of them herding 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 or fly to a tree for a rest.


We have only seen cormorants here on our farm 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. The video below highlights how man has used the natural instinct of these birds to help the people of his village.

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The cormorants, like many other birds such as the penguins, once underwater propel themselves using their feet and wings which assists them in the capture of their prey.

The Osprey

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 on our farm 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 waiting for their prey to get within range. They then 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 several times 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 that the kingfishers have coughed up. These are the bits of the fish their bodies can't digest.

The Pelican

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 that 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.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Mary Wickison


Mary Wickison (author) from USA on March 30, 2014:

Thank you for your kind words. Glad you enjoyed the hub, I will be sure to pass your comments on to my husband. Have a great week.

Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on March 28, 2014:

What a great article showing lot of originality of thought. I like birds and photography and this hub gives me both.

Your husband is definitely a top notch photographer.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on January 23, 2014:

Hello Teaches,

I too am not quick enough to capture the kingfishers. We get so much pleasure from watching them. It's better than TV!

Lovely to hear from you, glad you enjoyed it.

Dianna Mendez on January 23, 2014:

Living near the ocean, we get to enjoy watching birds fish from the water. It is so fascinating. Last month, I saw a Kingfisher sitting on a post and tried to get his picture. Alas, I missed the opportunity! Your post is fascinating and educational. Thank you for a refreshing read.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on January 17, 2014:

Hello Ann,

I can claim almost no credit for the photos as they were taken by my husband.

When we were in England we only saw kingfishers a couple of times, they are very secretive there. Here, they are rather vocal and announce themselves.

Glad you enjoyed it, thanks for reading and commenting.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on January 17, 2014:

Hi Diana,

That is wonderful that the electric company had the foresight to do this. I am sure the good publicity didn't hurt either . I am glad to know that the osprey returned as sometimes if they are disturbed, they won't. That is a 'feel good' story.

Thanks for sharing that with us.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on January 17, 2014:

Hi Ms Dora,

We get so much pleasure from watching the antics of the birds here.

We are truly blessed.

I am pleased you enjoyed it.

Thank you for your vote.

Ann Carr from SW England on January 17, 2014:

I love any kind of bird. The Striated Heron is one I haven't seen before; how beautiful! An Osprey is awesome; in fact, all birds of prey are awesome I think.

I've seen kingfishers in a French river but never here in Britain, sadly.

Your information and your photos are brilliant and I enjoyed reading this. Ann

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on January 16, 2014:

Interesting information on how birds fish. Also interesting that they steal from each other. A good article. Voted Up!

Diana L Pierce from Potter County, Pa. on January 16, 2014:

This is a wonderful hub. A local high school about five miles away from here had an Osprey nest on top of a set of lights used to light up their football field. The lights became in need of repair and needed to be taken down, so with a volunteer effort to move the nest, a big platform top of a pole was built just for the Osprey and the electric company helped move the nest. These birds come back every year and fish in a river close by.

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