The Green Heron's use of bait and lures to catch fish is arguably one of the most impressive instances of tool use in the animal kingdom.
Tool use in animals is rare, and bespeaks a level of intelligence that most of us are unaccustomed to associating with non-humans. This has a way of personifying creatures; to watch a sea otter hammer away at a sea shell with a rock, or witness a dolphin using a conch shell to trap its prey, is to catch a glimpse of the intellect that is supposed to make humans unique.
That's what makes this video of a Green Heron using bread to lure fish to their doom so remarkable. One would be hard pressed to argue that this bird is not thinking critically about the technique it is employing to catch its prey. Not only is it demonstrating logic and reason in its capacity to understand that a piece of bread can be used as bait, it's also passing up the chance to eat the bread in favor of a better meal, actively weighing cost and benefit, pitting immediate gratification against delayed satisfaction. It's a stunning display of animal intelligence.
This skill is even more intriguing when you realize that not all Green Heron actually hunt this way; the species has a wide geographic distribution, but bait-fishing only pops up in a few places, including the southern US, southern Japan, and western Africa.
"It would be interesting to know why the behaviour appears to be restricted to certain areas within the vast distribution of the species," writes zoologist Hiroyoshi Higuchi in this study on the link between Green Heron bait-fishing and territory quality, "however, we have to collect much more data on the behavior to clarify the reason."
Hat tip to Rachel!