Black Bittern’s hunting technique

BitternBl-fish [JiaWeiWoo]

Like most herons, the Black Bittern (Dupetor flavicollis) is a non-swimmer found around the margins of wetlands. Its plumage provides excellent camouflage in an environment where aquatic weeds predominate.

BitternBl-fish [JiaWeiWoo]

Jia Wei Woo’s video of a Black Bittern’s fishing technique was filmed around 1130 hours on 3rd April 2016. The location was Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay – specifically, Satay by the Bay. For documentation purposes, his video has been slowed down by 4 times. That will give you some perspective how fast and quick these bitterns really are.

In the above video the bittern is at the water’s edge, crouched low. It remains motionless, waiting patiently for a prey to appear. And it can remain in this typical “bittern-stance” for hours at a time.

BitternBl-fish [JiaWeiWoo]

Once a prey (in this case a fish) approaches close enough, it suddenly extends its long neck such that the harpoon-like bill makes contact with the fish. As it is a small fish, it was clamped between the tips of its mandibles. A bigger fish will most probably be impaled by the sharp points of one of the mandibles.

BitternBl-fish [JiaWeiWoo]

The bittern shakes the fish vigorously to stun it and moves onto to dry ground where it will be swallowed under cover of vegetation.

Once the fish reaches the gizzard, the flesh is stripped off and passed through the stomach while the scales and bones compacted into a pellet and ejected.

According to Jia Wei: “I have also seen it once diving into the water and flying out in an attempt to fish, similar to how kingfishers hunt. But this other hunting strategy is seen less often. I have only seen it diving into the water once out of 4 observations. In 3 of those observations the black bittern hunted using the strategy shown in the video.”

Jia-Wei Woo
11th April 2016

This post is a cooperative effort between Birds, Insects N Creatures Of Asia and BESG to bring the study of birds and their behavior through photography and videography to a wider audience.

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