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10 Fantastic Birds That Eat Fish (With Pictures and Facts)

In the natural world, where every creature plays a role in the delicate balance of ecosystems, there exists a fascinating group of birds whose lives are intricately linked to the water. These avian fishermen, equipped with specialized adaptations, have mastered the art of catching fish, showcasing a remarkable diversity in hunting techniques and survival strategies.

From the high dive of an osprey to the agile theft of a frigatebird, each species has evolved unique methods to thrive in its environment. However, these incredible birds face numerous threats that jeopardize their very existence.

Our article explores the diverse world of fish-eating birds, delving into their fishing techniques, the critical role they play in their ecosystems, and the challenges they confront in a rapidly changing world.

Birds That Eat Fish


  • Scientific Name: Pandion haliaetus
  • Where Found: Worldwide distribution across all continents except Antarctica
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Osprey is a unique raptor, perfectly adapted to a life spent hunting fish. Its global presence in coastal regions, rivers, and lakes speaks to its incredible adaptability and specialized hunting technique.

With a diet that consists almost entirely of fish, the osprey plunges feet-first into the water to grab unsuspecting prey with its sharp talons. This bird is easily recognizable by its white underbelly, dark back, and angled wings in flight.

Did you know? Ospreys have a reversible outer toe that allows them to grasp their catch with two toes in front and two behind, providing a better grip on slippery fish.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle
  • Scientific Name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
  • Where Found: North America, from Alaska and Canada down through the United States to Mexico
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Bald Eagle, the national bird of the United States, is not just a symbol of freedom but also an incredible fisher. Primarily found near large bodies of open water with abundant fish, bald eagles have a preference for fish, which makes up the majority of their diet.

They are known to snatch fish from the water with their powerful talons or even steal fish from other birds. Their majestic appearance, with a white head and tail contrasting against a dark brown body and wings, makes them a sight to behold.

Did you know? Bald eagles build the largest nest of any North American bird, which can be up to 13 feet deep, 8.2 feet wide, and weigh 1 metric ton.

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican
  • Scientific Name: Pelecanus occidentalis
  • Where Found: Coastal areas in the Americas, from the eastern coast of the United States south to the Amazon River in Brazil
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Brown Pelicans are among the most recognizable coastal birds, famous for their distinctive large bill and expandable throat pouch. They feed by diving headfirst into the water to scoop up fish, which they then drain from their pouch before swallowing. Unlike other pelicans, the brown pelican practices plunge-diving to catch its prey, a spectacular sight along the shores they inhabit.

Did you know? The Brown Pelican is one of only two pelican species that feeds by diving into the water.

Atlantic Puffin

  • Scientific Name: Fratercula arctica
  • Where Found: North Atlantic Ocean, breeding on coastal cliffs and offshore islands from the United States and Canada to western Europe and the Arctic
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable

Atlantic Puffins, with their colorful beaks and clown-like appearance, are often called the “clowns of the sea.” These small, sturdy seabirds are incredible swimmers, using their wings to “fly” underwater while hunting for fish.

They breed in large colonies on coastal cliffs, where they lay a single egg in burrows. Puffins are capable of carrying multiple fish in their beaks to feed their chicks, thanks to the unique structure of their jaws.

Did you know? Puffins have a special technique for holding several fish at once in their beaks – their unique tongue and spines on the roof of their mouth allow them to catch and hold multiple fish without losing any.

Great Cormorant

Great cormorant
  • Scientific Name: Phalacrocorax carbo
  • Where Found: Freshwater and coastal areas worldwide, from rivers and lakes to estuaries and coastlines
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Great Cormorant is a large and efficient predator, well-adapted to life both in and out of water. These birds feed by diving underwater and can chase fish with great agility thanks to their powerful webbed feet and streamlined bodies.

Cormorants are often seen standing with their wings spread out to dry, a behavior necessary because their feathers become waterlogged, reducing buoyancy and allowing them to dive deep.

Did you know? Cormorants have been used by fishermen in some parts of Asia for centuries to catch fish. The fishermen tie a snare near the base of the bird’s throat, preventing them from swallowing larger fish, which are then collected by the fishermen.

Common Tern

Common Tern
  • Scientific Name: Sterna hirundo
  • Where Found: Breeds in temperate and subarctic regions of Europe, Asia, and North America, and winters in tropical and subtropical coastal areas
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Common Tern is a slender, agile bird, known for its graceful flight and dramatic dives into the water to catch fish. With a light body, long wings, and a forked tail, it epitomizes the elegance of seabirds. These birds are highly migratory, covering vast distances between their breeding and wintering grounds, showcasing remarkable endurance.

Did you know? Common Terns are known for their long-distance migrations, with some birds traveling over 70,000 kilometers (about 43,500 miles) annually during their migratory circuits.


  • Scientific Name: Alcedinidae family (various species)
  • Where Found: Worldwide, especially in warm climates near rivers and lakes
  • Conservation Status: Varies by species; some are of Least Concern, while others are Near Threatened or Vulnerable

Kingfishers are small to medium-sized vivid birds, renowned for their explosive fishing technique. They are found near water bodies across the world and are easily recognizable by their bright plumage and large heads with long, sharp bills.

Kingfishers hunt by perching above the water before diving in to catch fish with remarkable precision. There are many species of kingfishers, each adapted to its own specific habitat, but nearly all share a diet predominantly consisting of fish.

Did you know? Kingfishers have specially adapted eyes that help them see underwater and judge the exact position of their prey, allowing them to compensate for refraction when they dive.


  • Scientific Name: Morus bassanus
  • Where Found: North Atlantic, breeding on islands off the coasts of Europe and North America
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Gannets are large seabirds known for their spectacular diving behavior. They can be seen plunging from heights of up to 30 meters (about 100 feet), hitting the water at high speeds to catch fish deep below the surface.

With their long, slender bodies and wings adapted for both gliding and rapid diving, gannets are built for fishing. Their populations are concentrated on isolated islands where they form large, noisy colonies.

Did you know? Gannets have air sacs in their face and chest, which act like bubble wrap, cushioning the impact with the water when they dive at high speeds.

Arctic Tern

Arctic Tern
  • Scientific Name: Sterna paradisaea
  • Where Found: Breeds in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions, and winters in Antarctic waters
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Arctic Tern is famed for its extraordinary migratory journey, the longest of any bird, traveling from its Arctic breeding grounds to the Antarctic and back each year.

This remarkable journey ensures that the Arctic Tern sees more daylight than any other creature on the planet. Their diet mainly consists of fish, which they catch by skillful diving. The bird’s life is a cycle of endless summer, chasing the sun across the globe.

Did you know? The Arctic Tern experiences more daylight than any other animal in the world because of its extensive migratory pattern, spending summers in both the Arctic and Antarctic.


Frigate in Galapagos
  • Scientific Name: Fregatidae family (various species)
  • Where Found: Tropical and subtropical oceans around the world, especially near coastlines and islands
  • Conservation Status: Varies by species; some are of Least Concern, while others are Near Threatened

Frigatebirds are magnificent seabirds, known for their large size, long wingspan, and the male’s distinctive red gular sac, which it inflates to attract a mate. Despite being seabirds, frigatebirds are unable to swim, dive into the water, or take off from a flat surface.

They feed on fish by snatching them from the ocean’s surface or more commonly, by kleptoparasitism – harassing other birds until they drop their catch. Their aerial agility makes them master thieves of the bird world.

Did you know? Frigatebirds can stay aloft for weeks at a time. They sleep while soaring high in the air, a behavior that has been confirmed by tracking their flight patterns with GPS loggers.

How Do Birds Fish?

Let’s take a look at the various techniques and adaptations that enable certain birds to catch fish, highlighting the diversity of hunting methods across different species.

  • Dive Bombing: Birds like the osprey and gannet are known for their dramatic dive-bombing technique, where they plummet from the sky into the water at high speeds to snatch unsuspecting fish. This method requires acute vision to spot prey from above and specialized body adaptations to withstand the impact with the water.
  • Surface Diving: Penguins and some duck species use this method, diving from the surface to pursue fish underwater. They are excellent swimmers, using their wings or feet to propel themselves while their streamlined bodies minimize drag.
  • Skimming and Plunge-Diving: The pelican and tern exemplify this technique, flying close to the water’s surface and using their large beaks or diving swiftly to capture fish. Pelicans may also work in groups to herd fish into shallow waters before scooping them up.
  • Hovering and Diving: Kingfishers and some tern species hover above the water to spot their prey before diving headfirst to catch fish. This requires incredible precision and the ability to adjust for the refraction of light in water, which distorts the apparent position of their prey.
  • Kleptoparasitism: Some birds, like the frigatebird, engage in kleptoparasitism, stealing fish from other birds. This involves aerial agility and the ability to harass or intimidate other birds until they release their catch.

What Threats Do Fishing Birds Face?

Here are the major threats to birds that rely on fish for their diet, showcasing the impact of human activities and environmental changes:

  • Habitat Loss and Degradation: The destruction of wetlands, deforestation along riverbanks, and coastal development significantly reduce the available nesting and feeding grounds for many fish-eating birds, leading to population declines.
  • Pollution: Water pollution from industrial waste, agricultural runoff, and oil spills can poison fish stocks and the birds that eat them. Plastic pollution is also a growing threat, with birds mistaking plastic debris for food or becoming entangled in it.
  • Climate Change: Rising sea levels, increased storm frequency, and changing ocean temperatures can disrupt fish populations and migration patterns, making it harder for birds to find food. Changes in rainfall patterns also affect freshwater ecosystems and fish availability.
  • Overfishing: Human overexploitation of fish stocks can lead to a significant decrease in the primary food source for many of these birds, forcing them to travel longer distances to find food and affecting their breeding success.
  • Human Disturbance: Recreational activities, such as boating and beach tourism, can disturb nesting sites and feeding grounds, leading to lower breeding success rates and loss of habitat.
  • Invasive Species: The introduction of non-native species can disrupt local ecosystems, leading to competition for food or predation on native bird species and their eggs.

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