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Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher Nests

5-18-17 female kingfisher 025I unintentionally neglected to mention the diameter of the holes in yesterday’s Mystery Photo. They were approximately 5” wide. Bank Swallow nest holes, similar looking and also dug into banks, are anywhere from 1 ½” to 3” in diameter. Being colonial nesters, Bank Swallows also typically have many more nests in a given bank (see photo inset) than Belted Kingfishers, which usually have one but may have several in a single bank, only one of which they occurpy during a given season.

After courtship takes place, a pair of Belted Kingfishers flies to a sand bank in a road cut, landfill or sand/gravel pit that is usually near water, and proceed to excavate their nesting tunnel. The male begins to slash and probe the soil with his bill while the female remains perched nearby, calling the distinctive rattling call of Belted Kingfishers. She eventually lends a hand (bill) and they call to each other throughout the construction of their nest.

The tunnel extends three to six feet into the bank, ending with an unlined chamber. (A bed of undigested fish bones, scales and arthropod exoskeletons from regurgitated pellets eventually forms.) Typically the tunnel slopes upward from the entrance, which may help drain any water that accumulates in the nest. Furrows directly below the bottom of the nest hole are made by the feet of the birds as they enter and leave the nest.

Belted Kingfishers are starting to lay their six to seven eggs which will begin hatching in three to four weeks. (Photo:  female Belted Kingfisher)

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Silver Lining to Low Water Levels

9-27-great-blue-heron-20160911_7746The low water level of most small ponds and streams this fall has at least one silver lining, and that is that consumers of fish and other aquatic creatures expend far less energy finding prey, for it is all concentrated in much smaller bodies of water. The few puddles of water in small streams contain a vast amount of life, as do small ponds.

The Great Blue Heron has the advantage of having a varied diet that is found in a variety of habitats, so it forages in grasslands, marshes, intertidal beaches, riverbanks and ponds. While amphibians, invertebrates, reptiles, mammals, and birds are all known to have been eaten by Great Blue Herons, fish are their mainstay. They often forage in ponds, where they typically wade or stand in wait of prey in shallow water, which has not been in short supply this summer and fall. While the low water level is wreaking havoc with beavers and muskrats, it provides bountiful fuel for herons, egrets, kingfishers and other birds that forage in small ponds and streams as they wend their way southward.

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Belted Kingfishers’ Distinctive Traits

8-2-16 belted kingfisher 520You often hear a Belted Kingfisher before you see it. Their territorial, mechanical “rattle” is quite distinctive and issued frequently.  This call is just one of their more distinctive traits.  They are one of the few species of birds where the female’s plumage (two “belts” on breast) is more colorful than the male’s (one breast “belt”). Kingfishers have a distinctive pattern of wingbeats: whereas most birds beat their wings several times and then glide, kingfishers’ wingbeats are irregular and intermittent, lacking the flap and glide pattern.  Kingfishers have the unusual ability to hover in one spot while surveying the water 20 to 40 feet below for fish or other prey.  When they capture a fish, they often return to a branch and whack it multiple times against the branch to assure its compliance in being swallowed head first without a struggle.  Even the nesting site of a Belted Kingfisher is fairly unusual —  a chamber located at the end of a 3 to 6-foot-long bank burrow they dig with their bill and feet.

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Belted Kingfisher Snags, Stuns & Swallows Prey

4-23-14 b. kingfisher & crayfish 147Watching the hunting antics of a Belted Kingfisher can be highly entertaining. They often swoop down from a branch to grab prey which is near the surface of the water and they are also one of few birds capable of hovering– beating their wings while staying stationary long enough to focus on prey in the water. Once they’ve grabbed their prey, which is mostly fish, but also crustaceans, frogs, snakes, young birds and small mammals, in their pincer-like bill, the fun really begins. The kingfisher flies to a nearby perch with its prey in its bill and then proceeds to pound the prey against the perch with repeated sideways movements of its head. The kingfisher does this in order to stun the fish (or other prey) so that it can eventually turn it and swallow the fish head first. The kingfisher in this photograph was giving the crayfish it just captured a real beating before devouring it (head first).

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