A kingfisher needs just the right environment, with nesting habitat

Transcription

A kingfisher needs just the right environment, with nesting habitat
The King of Fishers
To encourage these charismatic birds to your shoot,
Tim Weston has some easy-to-follow advice.
A kingfisher needs just
the right environment,
with nesting habitat and
good fishing, to survive
12 June 2013
It seems counter-intuitive to provide hunting grounds and habitats for a predator, especially one that
predates on the very things us keepers are trying to preserve. But many keepers with waterways do
exactly that.
The kingfisher is such a charismatic species that we can’t help feeling privileged every time one darts
past us with its characteristic squeaking, peeping call. In the past, the kingfisher was trapped for its
feathers, which were used mainly in the fashion industry to decorate hats, though some were also
used in the tying of flies. Traps were set in holes in the bank, where the kingfisher might well build a
nest, and the birds were plucked and the feathers sent off to the fashion houses.
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The King of Fishers
The kingfisher is a hunter. They eat small fish, though relative to their size, pound for pound, they
consume what would be relative giants if we imagined the bird the size of a pheasant, for example.
They are always on the go, looking for a meal, and to do that they need a place to sit to find a suitable
target before swooping and attacking. A kingfisher must eat at least its own body weight in fish each
day just to survive.
Kingfishers contest territory
fiercely as they need just the
right environment to survive
Kingfishers prey on minnows, sticklebacks, trout and salmon fry, as well as roach, grayling and so on.
From time to time, they will also eat aquatic insects, such as mayfly nymphs, freshwater shrimp,
tadpoles and the like. Most of its prey lives in shallow, slow-moving water, which is worth considering
when you are looking for ways to increase the range and habitat for kingfishers. Pairs of kingfishers
will hold a suitable territory from others of the same species. They contest their territories fiercely,
because a kingfisher needs just the right environment, with nesting habitat and good fishing, to
survive. It is important that once they find the right area they don’t lose out — that could mean life or
death to one of these little birds, especially towards the winter months when fishing becomes harder
due to frozen water courses or floods. The size of the kingfishers’ territory will depend mainly on the
available food on any given waterway, probably more so than the habitat, though the latter is
important.
Parent kingfishers will drive their fledglings out much earlier than most birds. This is mainly to
maintain their territories and to protect their own fishing grounds. It is believed that only about half of
all fledglings will survive more than a week or two, and only a quarter will survive to the next breeding
season. They are very short-lived anyway. A mature bird is three seasons old — most birds will die at
around four — but very few live longer than one breeding season. According to the RSPB’s website,
the main predator of the kingfisher is the domestic cat, but rats can also do damage to a population.
How to encourage a nest
Keepers can easily encourage nesting sites for
kingfishers if they know what the birds prefer.
Male and female kingfishers create their nests by
excavating a burrow in a shallow river, stream or
lake bank, usually just below the top of the bank.
The birds like a vertical bank with little or no
vegetation on it. By keeping the vegetation on
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The King of Fishers
such banks clear during the summer this can encourage kingfishers to find a suitable site and start to
burrow out their nest. This is relatively easy for us to do and the rewards can be fantastic when you
see your first fledgling leaving the nest.
A pair of kingfishers will usually rear two to three broods in quick succession from the same nest. Each
brood has six to seven eggs. If kingfishers use a site you have selected and kept clear, avoid the urge
continually to check up on them. The chicks are susceptible to starvation if the feeding pattern is
disrupted and human disturbance can cause just that even if you are a safe distance away from the
nest. In a perfect territory, with ample food, chicks are ready to leave the nest within 25 days of
hatching. Once out of the nest, the adults will drive the birds away after only a few days and they will
then start another brood.
As well as keeping steep banks clear of vegetation to help the birds find a nesting site, keepers often
provide places from which the kingfishers can hunt. An ideal hunting spot is a solid, firm perch that
overlooks clear, slow-moving water that is inhabited by small fish and insects. A kingfisher will use
anything as a perch, but if you can clean up convenient tree branches and cut them so it is easy for the
kingfisher to land on and dive from, then it is almost certain they will use them if the food source is
there as well. Bridges, walls, bamboo canes, even staddle stones, will be utilised by these little birds if
they are in the right place.
It is important that the perch you choose is fairly solid — the birds don’t want to be waving around
when they are trying to target their meal. But it must also be substantial for another reason — the
bird will repeatedly strike its catch on the perch to kill it, before swallowing it head first.
It does this because fish such as sticklebacks
have sharp spines and by killing the fish before
eating it, the spines relax and won’t stick in the
bird’s throat. With a little work on your
waterways you, too, could be seeing kingfishers
darting around and making that unmistakable
sound. If you create the nesting sites and
perches over suitable water, the birds will
come. It might take a while, but as the
population grows and more fledglings are
pushed out to find new territories, then they
will eventually stumble upon your lake, pond or
stream.
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The King of Fishers
Kingfisher fact file:
• They’re short-lived, usually three to four years
• They’re susceptible to cold temperatures
• They’re fiercely territorial, even driving away their own fledglings
• Only half of all fledglings will survive to the first breeding season
• They eat small fish and aquatic insects
• They must consume their own body weight in fish each day to survive
How to site and make a perch
Where to site perches:
 Areas that have clear, slow-moving water that is relatively shallow
 Areas that are used by small fish such as in back eddies or side streams
 Away from disturbance
What to make your perch from:
 Utilise existing materials, such as tree branches that are already over the river — clean them
up to make it easy for the birds to land on and hunt from
 Any solid item in the right place will work — for example, a bridge
 Large bamboo can be used as a temporary perch to see if the kingfisher will use it
 Post and rail fencing
The NGO Educational Trust wishes to thank the Shooting Times for permitting us to reproduce this
article for the benefit of our website users.
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