Article and photos by Bronwyn Clear, Certified Texas Master Naturalist
Fishing Birds & the Fall Migration
If you are squeamish, you may not want to look at these photos! Fishing birds, like most wild carnivores, are stone cold predators. They shred, peck, beat and stab their prey, and then they devour it raw. Remember, birds evolved from the dinosaurs, and the brutal way they eat is in their very nature.
All year round there are birds fishing in our lake. Kingfisher, egret, and heron are just some of the birds we can watch making a catch in any month. We also have the occasional eagle and cormorant all year long, but this time of year so many more of the big raptors and larger fish eaters flock to Lake Livingston. Numerous Bald Eagles, Osprey, Cormorants, and American White Pelicans head south for winter and will feast in our Lake Livingston 5-star fresh fish restaurant!
Lake Livingston is one of several reservoirs along the ample Trinity River, and it is the second largest interior lake in all of Texas! Luckily, our lake and river basin are found alongside a portion of two American migration flyways – the Central Flyway and the Mississippi Flyway. These bird migration “highways” bring us large flocks of various birds for the winter, especially water birds, and now is the perfect season to see some of these visitors. Find time to go to Lake Livingston State Park, Wolf Creek Park, Pine Island, or the Livingston dam. Enjoy the cool weather, and while you are out, watch for our fishing birds. You might be lucky enough to see one catch a fish!
Learn more about the incredible nature in our area by joining a chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist organization. To find a chapter close to you, or to read about the state program, go online to www.txmn.org. Volunteer and get involved!
Belted Kingfishers can be seen all year long near our shorelines. They perch on branches that hang over calm water, then swoop and snatch small fish in their strong beaks. The final step is to beat their catch against a tree branch before consuming.
Double Crested Cormorants migrate in by the thousands, and aggravate homeowners and fishermen alike with their messy habits and voracious appetites. They surface dive and chase their prey underwater. Their long flexible necks help them gobble down fish.
A Bald Eagle uses his claws to catch fish floundering near the surface. He carries the catch back to a tree limb to eat, or to share with his nesting chicks near our lake.
Both Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons carry their big catches to shore in their beaks, stab right through them to stop their wiggling, and then swallow them whole, headfirst.
A Great Blue Heron is maneuvering his catfish to swallow it headfirst because that is the safest way to eat a fish. Great Blues are voracious eaters and some die choking on large catches.
You may want to avert your eyes! This osprey is having a raw sushi meal! Just like eagles, osprey swoop and catch fish with their claws, and then pick them apart to eat.
American White Pelicans by the Livingston Dam take a more passive approach to eating. They put their large heads underwater and wait for fish to swim into their mouths. They can hold up to 3 gallons of fish-filled water in their expandable bill pouches!
Laughing Gulls and red-billed Caspian Terns at Wolf Creek Park. Gulls swoop and grab while terns plunge-dive into the lake to take shad or other small fish.