Saturday, October 25, 2014

Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)

Field marks:  Green, wings and head, orange belly, blue back, long bill
Resident
普通翠鸟 – pǔtōng cuì-niǎo – ‘common cui bird’

The common kingfisher is one of the smallest and most common of the kingfisher family, “alcedinidae”. It is a widespread species, found across Europe and Asia, and in winter,  Africa and south Asia as far as Borneo and Java.

In China, it is a non-migratory species that will live year round in most places that can offer open fresh water from which the kingfisher can hunt for fish small aquatic animals. The common kingfisher will migrate from the northern part of its breeding range to southern points of the breeding range that offer unfrozen fresh water in winter.

The kingfisher gets its name from its mode of acquiring food-fishing. All kingfishers hunt for fish and small freshwater animals in lakes and ponds. All kingfishers are armed with long, dagger-like bills with which they grab or impale their prey. The birds will perch on rocks or branches of trees which overhang the surface of a lake or pond and wait until they spot their prey. They bob their heads while searching the water surface for prey. When a potential meal is spotted, they will leap from their perch and dive straight into the water to seize their prize. At other times, kingfishers hover above the water’s surface and dive when prey is spotted.

To sit quietly at a pond’s edge and watch the antics of kingfishers as they engage in their fishing soirtees is among the finest arrangements in birding.

The present species is particularly active in its fishing attempts diving frequently and flying about to find alternative perches. The common kingfisher flies low across the water and its wings make a noticeable whirring noise in flight.

Because the species’ survival is so closely linked to water, the common kingfisher nests in holes found on riverbanks or the sides of ponds. This close proximity to their hunting grounds helps to ensure the survival of young chicks.

Young kingfishers must learn quickly to fish and must be afforded enough time to observe the parents fishing skills. Often, young kingfishers do not acquire these skills fast enough are forced to fend for themselves before they are ready. Inevitably, many young kingfishers do not survive their year. Also, many young kingfishers do not survive their first few attempts at diving. Some drown when they fail to exit the water fast enough and their feathers become waterlogged.
Photo by Brian Westland

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