Yellow Bittern Swallowing Fish at “Satay By the Bay”

“The Yellow Bittern (Ixobrycbus sinensis) was fishing some short distance in front of me. It was standing motionless on a floating Waterlily (Nymphaea hybrid) leaf, waiting patiently for a fish to come within striking distance.

“The bird’s body is built like a complete self-propelled spearing machine, the bill being the tip of the spear which is razor sharp.

“When the fish came within hitting distance, the bird was able to gather its whole body to the task of extending, shooting forward the whole neck section and the head, like a heat seeking missile guided by the two forward looking eyes all the time focused on the target.

“After spearing the fish (a Blue Gourami) the bird needs to maneuver it in such a way that the fish is swallowed head first. This is a must for all fish-eating birds, otherwise the backward pointing spines will cause serious damage to the bird’s throat. In the best case scenario the backward pointing spines of the fish will prevent it from being swallowed by the bird.

“The fish, being mortally wounded and unable to struggle, was picked up head first and maneuvered in such a way that it gets pushed into the soft pouch under the bird’s bill.

“It is amazing to see that the fish does not slip out of the bird’s bill.

“The bird lifts up its head to get the fish into its gullet.

“This is about the final moments when the fish gets fully swallowed, the bird points its head straight up to straighten the throat so that the fish gets smoothly down.

Gulp !!!!

“The fish finally disappeared inside the bird.

“All these took the bird about 20 minutes to complete. It has to be very careful how it swallows the fish. Also the bird’s digestive juices are very strong, being able to dissolved bones, scales and other parts, to finally excreted them as a thick white fluid,

“Equipment used: Nikkor 500mm f/4, TC-20E III, Nikon1 V2.”

KC Tsang
Satay By The Bay
18th January 2016

9 Responses

  1. Kimosabe

    I believe the “Blue Gourami” is also called the “Three-Spot Gourami”.
    In Malay: Ikan Sepat (Trichopodus trichoperus). During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore, I used to catch them from the ditches, longkangs & waterways. They are good eating when fried crisp. Shiok!

  2. Daisy O'Neill

    Hi KC,

    Lovely images in close-up action. One of those very good lucky days of precised timing for such precision shots.

    Kimosabi, it is very ok to make spelling mistakes and better still made efforts to correct. Only prove contributor commentator not ‘low mor’ yet! He.,he..

    My articles still brewing. Ready before CNY.


  3. Lee Chiu San

    The correct name of the gourami is Trichogaster trichopterus. Trichogaster means hair on the belly, in reference to the long, hair-like ventral fins, which can be clearly seen in the photo. The fish can move these fins voluntarily, and use them as feelers in murky water. Trichopterus means hair-like fin.

    • anon

      Actually, Trichogaster is the old genus name for these gouramis. Trichopodus is the current, correct genus name used for them. Refer to Töpfer, J., & Schindler, I. N. G. O. (2009). On the type species of Trichopodus (Teleostei: Perciformes: Osphronemidae). Vertebrate Zoology, 59(1), 49-51.

  4. Kyle

    Just stumbled across this interesting blog and series again! That must be some hungry bird!

    Still, it seems difficult to me that the bird can deal with these spiky/large fish! So the bird was actually able to fit (swallowed alive?!) that whole thing down its long/skinny throat completely somehow?? I have never witnessed an event like this before.

    I feel somewhat perplexed over how it actually happens, wouldn’t the fish stand a chance of escaping or even damaging (it’s sharp fins, wriggling, biting, etc.) the bird’s throat/stomach if eaten in that condition?!

    It’s hard for me to imagine that the formidable-looking fish (wouldn’t the prey also go into a desperate “survival mode” once it realized that it hit the stomach?) doesn’t turn around inside the elastic gullet and how the bird can keep down/digest such an object with no issues?

    I don’t have much knowledge about these events and am mostly curious, I appreciate any feedback/explanation.
    Sorry for all of the questions, have a good week 😉

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