Archive for April 27th, 2010

While working in the garden a few days ago, I heard a commotion, an agitated chittering coming from the pond. I walked down to see what was causing the uproar. It turned out to be a Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon). He was seated on one of the Tree Swallow boxes, and the regular tenants were very put out by this.

They didn’t need to worry about the Kingfisher usurping their nesting box, however. Kingfishers don’t nest in boxes or trees. They nest in burrows in banks! You generally think of rabbits or other small animals as burrowers, not birds, but Kingfishers build their nest site in vertical banks near water. They prefer soil that is sandy, without too many plant roots. Both the male and female Kingfisher work on digging the burrow, taking turns digging and removing the detritus. The tunnel is usually three to six feet long, but occasionally may reach 15 feet in length. The nest chamber holds a grass or leaf saucer.

As their name suggests, Kingfishers eat fish, although they will also take aquatic invertebrates, amphibians and other available food items. I expect it was the schools of little fishes that inhabit the shallower waters of the pond that attracted the Kingfisher. Kingfishers catch fish by making shallow dives into the water. There are no suitable banks for burrowing around the pond, but there are a few spots along the river that might be appropriate. In the last few days I have spotted the Kingfisher flying overhead regularly, sometimes accompanied by a second bird, presumably his mate. Kingfishers will fly as far as 8 kilometers between feeding and nesting sites if necessary. Kingfishers have a loud, distinctive rattled call, which they may give in flight, so you generally know when they are in the area.

The young are fed by regurgitation. When the nestlings fledge, the parents teach them to fish. With the young perched nearby, the adults drop dead meals into the water for their offspring to retrieve. This schooling process takes about 10 days. After that, the kids are on their own.

As recorded in the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario, Kingfisher numbers have been declining. It is thought that possible causes for the drop in numbers include anthropogenic changes in water quality, turbidity and depth, which impair Kingfisher fishing success; the removal of trees along waterways; erosion of shorelines and siltation due to livestock use of habitat, and human disturbance of suitable shoreline areas. Kingfishers are most common in regions rich in wetlands and lakes and, as you would expect, are more rarely found in areas with intensive farming. I hope this pair are able to find enough habitat to their liking and will stick around. It’s great to see them each day.

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