It’s the green heron (Butorides virescens), a denizen of North and Central American wetlands and an accomplished fisherman. They are sit-and-wait predators, perching motionless on the bank or on a tree, ready to grab a fish by striking out with their amazingly long necks. (You can see this in the video below.) The neck strike could be considered convergent with a snake strike! Here’s a green heron in a normal position (photos from 10,000 Birds):
And the same bird at full stretch:
Here’s one fishing upside down from a branch:
Such lovely birds. But the most amazing thing is that they use tools. Some of them fish with bait, putting a piece of food or an object in the water and then snatching the fish that are attracted to it. Here’s a video of that behavior (ignore the cloying and patronizing narration—”Oh, what a clever bird!”). Notice how the bird keeps repositioning his bait, like a fisherman casting his line over and over again:
That strike is fast! You can see a different video and a different bird here; in this case the bird goes into the water for the catch, and gets a bigger fish.
Is the fishing behavior innate or learned? The Animal Cognition site from Tufts University says this:
The practice of bait-fishing is rare among green herons. The fact that few herons use bait-fishing indicates that it is not an innate behavior. [JAC note: I don’t agree; rarity doesn’t militate against innate-ness.] Moreover, the infrequency of bait-fishing suggests that the behavior is not culturally transmitted. The roots of using objects to attract fish are unclear. One theory suggests that herons are imitating human behavior when they use bait for fishing. However, the fact that attempts to teach herons to use bait for fishing have failed suggest otherwise.
Another possibility is that herons learn to use bait for fishing through experience, i.e. the heron accidentally drops an object in the water and sees the object’s attraction to fish. Some researchers believe that making the connection between dropping something on the water and seeing the crowd of fish that results and intentionally dropping bait into the water is very difficult. According to these researchers, only the exceptionally intelligent herons acquire the skill of bait fishing. The intelligence requirement accounts for the small percentage of green herons who engage in bait-fishing. Other researchers argue that the reason for the infrequency of the behavior is that few herons actually have the opportunity to observe the results of dropping an object into the water.