For some reason we cannot fully explain, we like to take photos of wildlife eating, … whatever they are eating. This interest may have something to do with the way the animals eat, or the great challenges they overcome to eat. We also like to have confirmation of what the field guides describe. Obviously, our motivations are complex. In any event, in this article we will talk about some wildlife that eats fish.
We have known for years that ring-billed gulls eat fish. We have seen them pecking away at dead fish on the shore. The field guides tell us that they also eat insects, earthworms, rodents, and grain. No one needs a book to know they also eat garbage. It is refreshing to see a gull, as we did in October, holding a minnow, a perfect-sized minnow, in its bill, just before the gull flipped back its head and swallowed it whole. The ring-billed gull is usually a simple one to identify with the black band ‘painted’ around its yellow bill, but in this photo lunch is obscuring the ring. 99.9% of the gulls we see at White Lake are ring-billed gulls.
We love watching North American river otters swimming, playing, and eating. We have seen them tussling with turtle shells the size of a bread and butter plate more often than with fish, but as you see from the following photo, clearly they eat fish, including this one which appears to be some sort of sucker. We have also seen otters eating crayfish. We understand they also like small birds and birds’ eggs.
One of our favourite birds to watch is the bald eagle. During the summer we saw one nest with two nestlings, and heard about a second nest on the lake. The adults take fish to their young, but clearly have to keep some for themselves. The photo below captures a bald eagle in August, cleaning its talons after a meal. Neither of us would want to be the fish held by those two-inch long talons. In addition to fish and other live prey such as gulls, bald eagles will steal a meal (or snack) from other birds. They also eat carrion and garbage.
Perhaps the most common hawk on White Lake, we see ospreys every summer. Unfortunately, our favourite observation point, a large nest in a tall, mature pine, blew down a few years ago in a storm. Smaller than the bald eagle but still a large bird, osprey dine exclusively on fish, some up to 33 centimetres long. In the photo below we can see the osprey’s long, sharp talons which have murderous effect when it dives feet first into the lake to grab a fish.
In the past five or six years our intrepid photographer has captured more photos of the green heron than he did 10 or so years ago. Perhaps this is because he is spending more time in his kayak at the edge of the marsh. A talented fisher, the green heron eats mainly small fish such as the minnow of sunfish, catfish, pickerel, and perch, all of which White Lake has in spades. They usually fish in the thick vegetation where the marsh meets the lake in water less than four inches deep, thus avoiding competition with the great blue heron which frequents deeper water.
Other species fish on White Lake, including kingfishers, mergansers, and this mature homo sapien who prefers his fish dusted in seasoned flour and pan-fried in butter.
Much of the information we used in this article comes from our favourite bird website, www.allaboutbirds.org. We also referred to the Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America, and Tamara Eder’s Mammals of Ontario.