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Fishing Methods Of Birds With Spear-shaped Bills

10-10-17 great blue heron with fish 049A5631How do herons, egrets, bitterns, kingfishers, loons and other fish-eating birds with spear-shaped bills capture their prey? Do they use their bill as a spear and pierce through a fish, or do they grab the fish between their mandibles? You often read about one of these birds “spearing” a fish. However, a majority of these birds, most of the time, do not spear fish, but open and shut their bills fast enough to capture a fish in them — the spear shape of their bill lends itself to the tong-like action it performs. In addition, its shape enhances the movement of the bill through the water as the bird dives (its head or body) into the water to grasp the fish between its upper and lower mandibles.

One exception to this rule is the Anhinga, which does run its bill (which is equipped with backward grooves to prevent slippage) through fish in order to capture them. After spearing a fish, an Anhinga then shakes it vigorously off its bill, tosses it in the air, and catches and swallows it headfirst. (Photo: Great Blue Heron)




7 responses

  1. peggythebaker

    I’ve seen a Great Blue Heron jostle a fish around so it slides down head first. I’ve read that that is more comfortable for the heron because the fish scales don’t scratch the heron’s throat!

    October 10, 2017 at 10:12 am

  2. Barry Avery

    The Herons in Manitook Lake in Granby, CT interrupt my fishing. I can’t help but watch them. I watched one that already had one Sunfish and was stalking another. I couldn’t figure out how he was going to get the second one. He eventually ate one and I watched him get another. didn’t care if I caught fish or not after that.

    October 10, 2017 at 11:12 am

  3. Kathie Fiveash

    I did once see a GB heron spear a huge carp right through the eyes. That carp must have been at least half the heron’s weight. The heron flipped it into the air, caught it head first, and swallowed it whole – I could see the fish body grossly distending the heron’s long neck all the way down. I bet that fish was still wriggling inside the heron’s stomach for a long time. But the heron just shook itself, ruffled the feathers on its whole body, and went on fishing!!

    October 10, 2017 at 11:18 am

  4. Allison Bell

    I often have wildlife camera video of subjects you post, including a blue heron with a captured chipmunk. Would you be interested seeing/sharing these?

    October 10, 2017 at 11:51 am

  5. Alice Pratt

    That’s quite a ‘feat’ for the Anhinga to swallow the fish head first!

    October 10, 2017 at 3:16 pm

  6. Grady watts

    I once was fortunate enough to observe a green heron catch a fish sideways between its bill and incrementally turn it until it’s head, not it’s tail, was facing down its throat. Then it inched it down, its neck bulging as it descended into its stomach. The fish was very much alive and trying to escape, but unable to break free as the heron deftly turned it 90 degrees into its throat.

    October 15, 2017 at 10:44 am

  7. arsenios

    The heron flipped it into the line, caught it pass 1st, and swallowed it unanimous – I could figure the Pisces physical structure grossly distending the heron’s long cervix all the agency down. I’ve scan that that is more comfy for the heron because the Pisces scales don’t lucre the heron’s pharynx!

    October 30, 2017 at 7:16 am

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