On January 29th, I was at Charleston Lake in Charleston, Arkansas, parked near the boat ramp, watching the fish become active near the shore. During the early morning, the fish start being active near the surface of the water. Sometimes I get lucky, and these fish will be near the fishing pier and the boat ramp, which is why I like parking in this location. When the fish get active, so do the birds.
A Great Blue Heron was nearby and started moving closer to where the fish were active and near where I was parked. I got ready with my camera resting on a beanbag draped over the open window of my truck. I was ready for the Heron to catch a fish, but instead, a Red-shouldered Hawk came out of nowhere, grabbed a fish from the lake, and flew to a nearby tree to eat it. As you can see in my photos, I was able to photograph this action occurring a short distance from me.
I have witnessed a Red-shouldered Hawk catching fish out of this lake before, but this was the first time that I was prepared to photograph this Hawk in action.
While Red-shouldered Hawks rarely catch fish directly from a lake, there are a few nuances to consider:
- Primary prey: Red-shouldered Hawks primarily hunt small mammals like voles, mice, and chipmunks, along with amphibians, reptiles, and even other birds. Fish is not a regular part of their diet.
- Opportunistic feeders: Despite their preference for land-based prey, Red-shouldered Hawks can be opportunistic feeders. If an easy opportunity arises, they might snag a fish near the water’s edge, especially during times of low water levels when fish are more concentrated and vulnerable.
- Stealing from others: Interestingly, they’ve been observed stealing fish from other predators like snakes that have already caught them.
- Forest preference: Red-shouldered Hawks typically prefer forested areas near lakes and swamps, where their typical prey is more abundant. Open water might not be their favored hunting ground.
- Uncommon behavior: Catching fish is not common behavior for Red-shouldered Hawks. It’s more likely they’ll focus on their usual prey on land.
So, while it’s possible to see a Red-shouldered Hawk snatch a fish, it’s not their typical behavior and wouldn’t be the main reason you’d find them near a lake.