Tigerfish filmed catching bird mid-air rian Gratwicke/Flickr

A tigerfish has been filmed jumping out of a lake, grabbing a bird by its wing and dragging it to its watery death below the surface.

Footage shows a fish jumping from the water of a lake in Africa and catching a low-flying swallow straight out of the air.

Nico Smit, director of the Unit for Environmental Sciences and Management at North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa, told Nature magazine that his first reaction at realising what he had filmed was "pure joy".

"The whole action of jumping and catching the swallow in flight happens so incredibly quickly that after we first saw it, it took all of us a while to really fully comprehend what we had just seen," he said.

"We realised that we were spectators to something really incredible and unique."

Published in the Journal of Fish Biology, the researchers tell how rumours about African tigerfish jumping from the water to as much as one metre, have circulated for over 70 years. However, there has never been any evidence.

The team were looking to study the migration habits and habitat of tigerfish in Mapungubwe National Park, which is in South Africa, near the boarders of Botswana and Zimbabwe.

After setting up their cameras, the team got more than they bargained for, with as many as 20 successful strikes on birds by the fish every day.

The researchers witnessed pursuits by fish at the surface as well as direct attacks from deep water – the latter of which proved more successful.

Speaking to the BBC, Smit said: "The African tigerfish is one of the most amazing freshwater species in the world. It is a striking fish with beautiful markings on the body, bright red fins and vicious teeth."

The study suggests this feeding behaviour was the result of necessity due to food shortages.

"We hope that our findings will really focus the attention on the importance of basic freshwater research, and specifically fish behaviour," he added.