A Bird’s-Eye View of Fishing

Problems to solve

Fishers — whether humans or birds — have three fundamental problems to solve:

(1) find fish, (2) approach them, and (3) capture them.

A typical method of early Egyptian fishermen was to use a harpoon to spear fish. These fishermen employed the same basic techniques that some birds of the heron family used long before human competitors appeared on the scene.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron (Photo credit: Vicki’s Nature)

The gray heron, a bird common in Egypt’s Nile delta, uses its sharp beak like a lance to spear fish. It can even spear two different fish at the same time, and it may eat over a pound (0.5 kg) of fish a day. The heron might be said to surpass human fishermen in guile.

Generally, herons specialize in stalking and striking their prey. A heron will wade slowly through shallow water or sometimes just stay totally still with its beak at the ready. When a fish comes within striking distance, the heron plunges its head into the water and captures the fish with its beak. Patience is usually the key to the bird’s success.

Fishing

Fishing With Bait

According to the book The Life of Birds, green-backed herons in Japan seem to imitate people who feed bread to fish found in ornamental lakes. Those ingenious birds use pieces of bread to lure fish to within easy reach.

Egrets in the Caribbean also use bread to lure fish. Egrets even catch fish without any bait at all, using their yellow feet. Standing in shallow water on one foot, they wag their other foot in the water to attract the attention of inquisitive fish.

Grab-and-Go Techniques

African fish eagle just caught a cat fish in L...

African fish eagle just caught a cat fish in Lake Baringo, Kenya (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Birds do their fishing in various ways. Fish eagles, often called osprey, could best be described as grab-and-go fishers. They fly above the water, keeping a lookout for any fish swimming near the surface. Once one is spotted, they fold their wings and dive steeply toward the water, realigning their swoop as necessary before snatching the fish with their talons. This technique requires perfect timing and excellent eyesight.

Sometimes the African fish eagle discovers that the fish it has captured with its talons is too heavy to lift. The fish may weigh up to six pounds (2.7 kg)! What does the eagle do then? Naturalists have observed some solving the problem by paddling to shore using their wings!

Diving for Dinner

Gannets and boobies also dive for fish, but they use a vertical dive. Small flocks fly together searching for shoals of fish that swim near the surface. The silvery bodies of these fish change the color of the sea from dark blue to pale green when viewed from above. This telltale patch of green sets gannets and boobies in motion.

After locating a shoal of fish, gannets plunge like arrows into the water at speeds of up to 60 miles (96.56 km) an hour. The birds create a spectacle one might compare to an Olympic diving competition. Other flocks soon notice the activity and quickly arrive at the spot to share in the feast.

An African Fish Eagle about to catch a fish in...

An African Fish Eagle about to catch a fish in Lake Naivasha, Great Rift Valley, Kenya. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unlike herons, boobies and gannets do not spear the fish when their head enters the water. The force of their dive carries the birds to a depth of several feet. Then, as they swim to the surface, they catch the fish and swallow it whole.

Terns are also proficient divers, but they swoop and hover much closer to the water. The Handbook of the Birds of the World explains that rather than dive-bombing as boobies and gannets do, terns depend on “skill, grace and agility in flight.” They will scoop a fish from the surface. Only briefly, on occasion, do they pursue a fish under water.

Team-spirit

Fishing as a Team

Pelicans may look ungainly because of their huge beaks, but they are accomplished fliers and fishermen. Brown pelicans usually dive for their dinner, and they may also snatch fish from local fishermen as they haul in their nets. But pelicans really excel at collective fishing.

By nature, pelicans are gregarious. A remarkable trait is their habit of coordinating fishing efforts. Typically, a flock of a dozen birds alight on the water and form a semicircle. Swimming slowly, they herd a shoal of fish into a convenient shallow area. As they do, they all open their wings and submerge their heads in unison, gulping fish into their beaks.

Of course, like any human fishers, birds often fail in their attempts. But their success rate is generally much higher than that of their human competitors.

鷺鷥 Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret (Photo credit: ArthurJo)

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  • Awakenings on the River (playamart.wordpress.com)
    The Daily Post tossed out a challenge with four options this week; I selected this one: “Take a draft post that you didn’t published because it didn’t turn out as you expected. Change the story, revise it, and publish.”
  • Master fisherman heron catches a fish using bread as bait (thisismoney.co.uk)
    As most avid fisherman will tell you, you’ve got to use the right bait to attract the big fish.While a seagull might happily feast on a proffered chunk of bread, a green heron knows exactly how to turn that bread into a fish supper.A fascinating video of the heron’s antics shows the bird dropping the bread in the water to lure a fish.
  • Constant cacophony: Herons return to Devil’s Lake (wiscnews.com)
    According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website, herons are about 4 feet tall, and theycan be identified by their distinctive coloration, which includes blue-grey feathers with a black stripe and plume above their eyes. Their long, yellow beak is perfect for spearing fish.“They’re migrating back now,” Johansen said of the birds, adding that the male herons return first.

    The females arrive soon after.

    “The males will come in, and they’re figuring out their territories, and then they will attract a female to come in and build a nest and start a family together,” Johansen said.

  • Loving Who You Are: The Story of the Heron and the Crow (mylovingartproject.com)
    The heron knew his time had come. Even the crows knew that the heron was the most patient of all the water birds. He did not mind standing in the water for long periods of time. Today, the heron was firmly planted and balanced on one leg. His piercing eyes were searching. He was ready to harpoon his long and agile beak into the water at the first sign of movement.At that very moment, the last crow circled above the heron and accidentally dropped what was in its beak. The crow’s prized catch fell straight down to the water from high above.  It was a thrown out piece of candy wrapped in a shiny red foil. The wrapper sparkled in the sunlight all the way down and hit the water with a small flicker.  This caused a faint glimmer of light and immediately caught the attention of the largest fish in the lake. In a flash, the fish swam quickly up to the surface and the heron, who was ready and waiting, made the final move. The heron was a skilled fisher and he did not need to chase the fish. His beak moved swiftly and decisively down into the water and the fish was his at last.
  • Colonial Waterbird Monitoring (gulfcoastbirdobservatory.wordpress.com)
    All these different species nesting in one place is gorgeous, but add to it that all of these birds were parading around in their fantastic breeding plumage and you have yourself a breathtaking view that you never want to leave. Breeding plumage is of course the plumage many birds acquire right before the breeding season to try to attract a mate. Birds dress up to impress each other too! This plumage may include bright colors or unusual feather shapes (such as plumes and streamers).
    +
    Words could never do these beauties justice. Whether breeding or not these birds are remarkable, but that extra boost of breeding plumage only adds to the wonder of these amazing creatures. It was an amazing experience and if you ever get the chance to see a heron rookery you should definitely go!
  • Herons and egrets in the UK – your Green shoots photographs (theguardian.com)
    Every year grey herons gather in large numbers to breed and raise young, building huge untidy nests out of large twigs, perilously perched high up in clumps of tall trees. London’s Battersea park has a heronry of 30 nests, but from Ulster to Northamptonshire and Devon to Cheshire, now is the best time to see these nests in the wild. Here is a list of best places to see heronries

    Little Egret~Egretta garzetta
    Little egret (Egretta garzetta) are, as their name suggests, much smaller than the great whites. They are about 60cm tall, with a wingspan of about 90cm. Photograph: Jump for joy2010/Green Shoots/Flickr
  • Wild Heron at the Oceanside Harbor (bilomathewsblog.wordpress.com)
    We like to walk to the beach harbor at Oceanside to watch the activities of people and the pelicans that hang around the fishing boats docked at the harbor. The pelicans will follow the fishing boats that return from the ocean into the harbor knowing that there is possibility of getting fish treats from the boat crew.
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2 Comments

Filed under Nature

2 responses to “A Bird’s-Eye View of Fishing

  1. Pingback: Grey heron catches prey, video | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Beauty (and science) in the small things | Stepping Toes

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