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Into the Outdoors: Critters that Fish

A couple of days ago, as I was driving along the Allegheny here in Brady’s Bend, I saw a sight which I have only ever seen once before. A bald eagle had a fish in its talons. That got me to thinking about critters other than humans that fish.

One of the best known is the great blue heron. These birds are often mistakenly referred to as cranes, probably due to their resemblance to the sandhill crane. They are often seen standing in the water on their long legs, watching for fish, which they catch with their sword-like beak. They can swallow a fish that is a foot long without difficulty. Something that never fails to amaze me about herons is their ability to fly right next to the water, with their long legs trailing behind. They build their huge nests high in trees, and nesting is occurring more often in this part of the country.

The green heron is another angler, although it most often eats minnows and other small fish.  They are often called a shite-poke. When I was a little kid, one of these used to visit the creek in our backyard every spring.  When I would see him, I would know that winter was finally over.

The osprey, also known as the fish hawk, is a large hawk, somewhat smaller than an eagle.  They feed almost exclusively on fish, and their body design reflects this. They are capable of diving almost totally underwater, and their wing joints allow them to take off successfully from the water. They were at one time just migratory, but some now nest in Pennsylvania.  If you fish at Harbor Acres lake, you are very likely to see them.  I’ve sighted them at different times of the year, so I can only assume that they are nesting nearby.

One of my very favorite birds is the belted kingfisher. They do most of their fishing in streams and creeks, including the one that runs through our home township. They somewhat resemble a blue jay, although they are larger and have a more pronounced crest. They dive completely underwater to capture small fish, which they then swallow whole. They will also eat crayfish and other small aquatic critters. On very rare occasions, they will eat mice. Their rattling, cackling call is almost unmistakable.  

Of course, the most magnificent of the other anglers is the bald eagle, our national symbol. For a time in the twentieth century, these wonderful creatures were actually in danger of extinction. Now, they have made a remarkable comeback just about everywhere.  In fact, it is no longer unusual to see bald eagles along the Allegheny River. When I was a kid, if you would have said that eagles would appear along the river, I would have suggested that you have your head examined. Three years ago, my son and I had the good fortune to see an eagle capturing a fish and carrying it off. This time, I didn’t get to see the actual catch. If you’d like to see a nesting pair, all you have to do is go to Oneida Lake. There is a pair nesting in the big pine trees on the Route 38 side of the lake. The best place to observe them is on the opposite side of the lake, with a good spotting scope or pair of binoculars.  

The “other anglers” are not limited to birds alone. River otters, which are making a comeback here in the Keystone State, are very fond of a fish dinner. Raccoons eat a lot of crayfish, but will not hesitate to eat a fish if they can catch them.

So, the next time you are out fishing, and think that you have the angling to yourself, think again. You may have more company than you realize.

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