An assortment of bird species in North America use their skills to capture and eat fish, with fish composing most or part of their diets. These fishing birds inhabit areas close to the ocean or inland locations in proximity to lakes, ponds, rivers and streams. Some of these birds capture their finned prey from above, while others do so by wading along the shore.
The osprey earns its nickname of "fish hawk" by catching fish with ease, diving into the water from above to accomplish this task. No other raptor in North America goes right into the water for fish. The osprey has sharp talons and feet that possess a barbed pad, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This feature helps the bird of prey hold onto a slippery fish. The osprey always positions the fish so that it can carry it headfirst back to its nest to eat it, making the flight aerodynamic. Ospreys often use telephone poles and other structures on which to build their huge nests of sticks. Ospreys can grow to almost 2 feet in length and have a wingspan in the 70-inch range.
Great Blue Heron
The great blue heron is a wading bird that specializes in catching aquatic life like small fish with a patient hunting style. The heron, which has a pair of long legs and a graceful lengthy neck, augments these features with a long sharp bill. The great blue heron will stand absolutely still, watching the water along the shore for any fish. Upon seeing one, it will uncoil a rapid strike and impale the fish or snap it up with its bill. Another method this fish-eating bird will employ is to walk around in the water and scare fish from hiding places, snapping them up when it spots them. Frogs, snakes and small mammals supplement the heron’s diet.
The roseate tern will breed along the Atlantic from as far north as Nova Scotia to as far south as Long Island. The roseate tern has a diet of saltwater fish species, with its favorites including small herring, mackerel, cod, haddock, pollock and white hake. The roseate tern can go all the way under the water’s surface after a long dive and pursue a fish by using its wings to propel it through the water. The roseate tern can catch multiple fish during a feeding trip and often lose their catch to larger gulls, ravens and crows. The roseate tern has a deeply forked tail and it is a slender streamlined bird, with a distinct black “cap” on its head.
The American bittern is a species of heron that gained the name of "look-up bird" from its habit of freezing in place and looking straight up to avoid detection from enemies. The mix of brown, black and white colors makes the bird hard to spot once it stops moving. The American bittern has a range over most of the United States and all of southern Canada. The fish it eats includes suckers and pickerel. The American bittern can be as tall as 34 inches and this species inhabits both fresh and saltwater marshes, the shores of lakes and ponds and swamps and bogs.
- Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds: Osprey
- Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection: American Bittern
- "National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds;" John Bull and John Farrand Jr; 2008
John Lindell has written articles for "The Greyhound Review" and various other online publications. A Connecticut native, his work specializes in sports, fishing and nature. Lindell worked in greyhound racing for 25 years.