Fish – It’s What’s for Dinner

A significant number of birds depend on fish as part of, or all of, their diet. Catching a fish is only part of the challenge. Once caught, the bird must keep other birds or mammals from stealing the fish before it can be consumed.

When this Common Loon surfaced with a fish, the White Pelican made a bee-line for it in order to try to steal a meal. Sony a9 + 100-400mm lens & 2x teleconverter @ 800 mm, ISO 800, f/11, 1/1000. ©Stanley Buman. All Rights Reserved, 2018, Swan Lake State Park, IA.

Next, the fish has to be repositioned before swallowing it whole. If you have handled a fish before, you know to slide your hand from the head to the tail when grabbing it. Otherwise, the dorsal fins can prick you. Birds swallow the fish head first so that the fins do not get caught in their throat. The trick is to not lose the fish in the process.

This Common Merganser hen had to maneuver the fish in order to swallow it head-first. Canon 1D Mark IIN + 500mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter, ISO 400, f7.1, 1/250 ©Stanley Buman. All Rights Reserved, 2008, Swan Lake State Park, IA.

After properly positioning the fish, the bird must try to swallow it. If the fish is too big, the bird eventually tires and lets the fish go. It is truly amazing how big of a fish a bird can swallow.

The Pied-billed Grebe worked hard to swallow this fish. But eventually it gave up. Sony a9 + 100-400mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter @ 560 mm, ISO 400, f/8, 1/2000. ©Stanley Buman. All Rights Reserved, Black Hawk Lake Wildlife Area.

Belted Kingfishers perch or hover above the water and dive down to catch their prey. Then, they fly to a perch, pound the prey against the perch to stun or kill it, and then swallow it whole.

A Belted Kingfisher is headed to a perch to consume a fish. Sony a9 + 100-400mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter @ 560 mm, ISO 400, f/8, 1/2500. ©Stanley Buman. All Rights Reserved, 2018, Swan Lake State Park, IA.

Bald Eagles take a little different approach. They usually perch or fly over a water body, spot a fish, pick it off of the surface, and continue their flight to a perch or nest. Then, using their sharp beak and talons, they rip the fish into pieces to be consumed.

A Bald Eagle in flight with a fish tucked in tight against its body to aid in aerodynamics. Canon 1D Mark IIN + 500mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter, ISO 400, f8, 1/1000 ©Stanley Buman. All Rights Reserved, 2008, Mississippi River lock & dam.

13 thoughts on “Fish – It’s What’s for Dinner”

  1. Nice photos Stan, I have never seen a Loon and here there was one at Swan Lake, I hope to see one and hear it as well someday. There is a family of Mallards on Walnut Creek with seven ducklings..so cute. I look for them on my walks and most generally get a peek. They have improved their speed swimming. Take care.

  2. Carol Gronstal

    I love your photos. I’m glad the Pied-billed grebe gave up on that fish. He literally bit off more than he could chew! Thanks for the lovely birdwatching session.

    1. Carol, I am always amazed at how big of fish those little grebes can swallow. I was actually surprised that this grebe was not able to swallow this fish.

  3. Stan, Your photos are amazing! We look forward to your emails with always a fascinating look at nature. Keep up the good work! Wes & CJ

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top