Hover and Dive…

Successful catch!
Kingfisher emerges from water with catch. Photo by Robert Balog from Pixabay.

Kingfishers are mostly colorful birds and sadly in days of old were hunted for their feathers to decorate hats.

It is not unusual to find kingfishers active along slow and relatively shallow streams and rivers. They like to perch on a branch waiting for prey to near the surface below. At other times they quickly fly over the water and hover for a while to line themselves up with a suitable target that they spotted from a distance, then dive quickly and is out of the water almost as quickly as it dived into it.

In terms of successes about 50% of dives are successful but only in the region of 25% from a hovering position above the water.

Fishing from a perch
kingfisher fishing from a perch by TeeFarm from Pixabay

Kingfishers eat mostly fish, frogs, tadpoles, dragonfly nymphs and other aquatic insects. This all sounds pretty nicely packaged and sorted and then one finds that there are other kingfishers, like the kookaburra that eat Insects, snakes, lizards, mice, small reptiles and young birds but rarely do they eat fish!

Kookaburra with mouse
kookaburra with mouse. Photo by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Getting back to our kingfisher on the perch who patiently waits for some prey to pass below. When it decides to dive it closes its eyes just before hitting the water and the eyes are protected by transparent eyelids.

The bird may dive up to a meter deep but most of its successful fishing attempts are near to the top of the water. The Kingfishers eyes are positioned such that they can use binocular vision to judge the distance underwater and overcome the refraction problem. When in the air the eyes operate using monocular vision.

After a successful dive and catching a large prey, the bird will return to its perch or a branch and beat the fish against the perch before swallowing it.

Kingfisher with snake
Kingfisher with snake. Photo by youngku lee from Pixabay

Courtship involves a lot of loud noise and opening of wings, depending on the species this may involve the male offering a fish or other prey to the female. If she doesn’t accept it the male swallows it and tries again.

Once the formalities are completed and the pair decide on a nesting site which could be a cavity, a tree or a burrow. If they are burrow nesting and are making their own burrow they will usually choose a place on a vertical sandbank. Then they start a burrow by flying into the bank using their beaks as chisels until they have a recess large enough to stand and dig. This chiseling involves a considerable force and birds have injured themselves fatally during this process.

The tunnel is usually inclined at around 30 degrees odd and the depth is determined by the type of material encountered. Often burrows are abandoned and restarted.

On average, 6 eggs are laid and incubation take in the region of 18 to 21 days. The area where the eggs are laid has a slight recess to prevent the eggs rolling out. Incubation duties are shared by both parents but the female performs the night incubation.

Once hatched the babies remain in the nest for another 25 days and then move down towards the burrow entrance. As they grow they can eat up to 18 fish in a day which keeps the parents busy, especially with a large brood.

Chicks are fed on rotation, once a chick is fed it moves to the rear of the tunnel to digest its food and the next one is then fed. In this way all the birds get a turn to eat.

Once the chicks have left the nest they are fed for an additional 7 to 10 days after which they fend for themselves.

Kingfisher with tilapia
kingfisher with successful catch. Photo by Achim Rodekohr from Pixabay.

In cold climates kingfishers typically move closer to the ocean but there are other varieties that migrate. The cold is one of the main causes of fatalities in these awesome birds.

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