It’s a gorgeous sunny day! The birds are singing, the surrounding woods almost glow with bright splashes of new green leaves against dark evergreens. You’re wandering aimlessly (because that is the only way to wander) along a stream, or in this case along the road.
Suddenly you see a hole in the side of a soft dirt bank. What lives here? Maybe a mole, perhaps a chipmunk, maybe even a small groundhog.
What if I told you it was this guy or gal?
"Belted Kingfisher" by Mick Thompson1 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
A bird? Birds don’t live in holes in the ground! A hole in a tree maybe, but in the ground? There are burrowing owls in Florida and puffins dig burrows, so it's not unheard of but not common either. Behold, the Belted Kingfisher. They arrive here in a pair each spring swooping over the pond with their chattering calls. They aren’t necessarily the same pair of birds, as they will choose new mates each year.
They work together to dig their burrow, taking turns. Actually, the male does more of the digging than the female, but, hello, she’s getting ready to have babies, she is busy! I found this quote at Allaboutbirds.org “The male probes the bank with his bill, flying back and forth to the female, who calls continuously from a nearby perch.” (Did you hear that in a voice like David Attenbourough’s?) What is happening do you suppose? I imagine the conversation is something like this.
Him: Do you like this spot?
Her: Hmmm, a little to the left maybe.
Him: This soil seems nice and soft, no roots. It would be easy to dig here.
Her: Um, no, I don’t think I will like the view from there.
Him: (tweety underbreath grumbles) I do most of the digging, I should get to choose the spot.
Her: What’s that dear?
Him: I said, Ok, I’ll try another spot.
When the burrow is done it will be anywhere from 3 to 6 feet into the bank sloping up so rain doesn’t trickle in. Isn’t nature amazing? I’m not sure that I would think of digging up to keep out rain! The final chamber will be about a foot all the way around and 6 inches high.
The female will lay between 5-8 white, shiny eggs a little larger than a human thumb. The babies will hatch 22- 24 days later. Sometimes couples will raise two broods in a season. Probably, if the first hatchlings are well behaved the parents will dare to try again (just my professional mom opinion, not based on ornithological science in any way haha). What is it they say about second children? If you had had the second one first there wouldn’t be a second one? Do you think that applies to birds?
Kingfishers eat primarily fish, insects and amphibians. Here at Twin Ponds we often see them sitting on a particular branch, that overhangs the water and seems to be their favorite (I like it as well, but I don’t sit on it because it won’t hold me), carefully they watch the water's mirrored surface before swiftly skimming it and fly back up with a small fish. Before eating the fish head first, they violently bang it against the perch. I’m assuming this is an attempt to kill the fish instead of having it wriggle down their throats. ugh.
The young can digest the bones and scales of the organisms they eat, however, the adults cannot, and like owls, they create and cast out a pellet of the undigested material. I learned this fact recently and recruited my family members for an expedition to find one, much to their delight I am sure. We searched near the pond where they like to perch and beneath the power line that they frequent across from their nest, searching the grass carefully for small shiny white castings, made mostly of bones and fish scales. I imagine they would be a beautiful treasure to find. We weren’t lucky enough to find even one and it makes me wonder if other animals would eat them or tear them apart, or if they would disintegrate quickly in the elements? My family simply wondered why we were wandering around in the yard looking for puked up fish bones.