Been a little busy over the last month with business trips to New York and Paris, however did manage to squeeze in a few hours photographing Kingfishers in the United Kingdom last weekend.
There is only one species of Kingfisher present in the United Kingdom, the Common Kingfisher, but what a little beauty it is.
On a global scale, the Kingfishers are generally small to medium sized, and virtually always brightly coloured birds. The Kingfishers have a cosmopolitan distribution, occurring throughout the world’s tropics and temperate region, with most species being found in the Old World and Australasia. They are absent from the polar regions and some of the world’s driest deserts. A number of species have reached islands groups, particularly those in the south and east Pacific Ocean. The Old World tropics and Australasia are the core area for this group. Europe and North America north of Mexico are very poorly represented with mainly only one species respectively, Common Kingfisher in Europe and the Belted Kingfisher, and a couple of uncommon or very local species each: Ringed Kingfisher and Green Kingfisher in the South-West USA, Pied Kingfisher and White-throated Kingfisher in South-Eastern Europe.
A place I hope to get to in the near future, the Gambia has more resident Kingfishers per square mile / kilometre than any other place in the world, with eight species in its 120 by 20 miles. (192 by 32 km) area, compare this to the whole of tropical South America, where only five species plus wintering Belted Kingfisher occur. There are six species occurring in the Americas, four closely related green Kingfishers in and two large crested Kingfishers.
The Kingfisher family (Alcedinidae) can be split into three family groups;
- Alcedinidae (river Kingfishers),
- Halcyonidae (tree Kingfishers), and
- Cerylidae (water Kingfishers)
There are roughly 90 species of Kingfisher, depending on the taxonomy list used (range 87-91).
All Kingfishers (to some degree) have “over-sized heads” and long sharp pointed bills, short legs, and stubby tails. One point of interest is the majority of Kingfishers are forest dwellers.
Kingfishers occupy a wide range of habitats. While they are often associated with rivers and lakes (which I am sure some of you, the readers are thinking “fisher”) , over half the worlds species are found in forests and forested streams. They also occupy a wide range of other habitats, e.g. the Red-backed Kingfisher of Australia lives in the driest deserts, although this is quite uncommon for Kingfishers. Some species live at high altitudes, open woodland and a number of species live on tropical coral atolls.
The Kingfishers feed on a wide variety of items. In most “people’s eyes”, they are famous for hunting and eating fish, however Kingfishers also eat crustaceans, frogs and other amphibians, worms, insects, spiders, centipedes, reptiles (including snakes) and even smaller birds and mammals. Kingfishers usually hunt from an exposed perch, when a prey item is observed the Kingfisher swoops down to snatch it, then returns to the perch, from last weekend’s experience, this is very fast and a super fast telephoto lens is needed to catch the action. I suppose this is a photography development exercise for the future.
Kingfishers are cavity nesters, with most species nesting in holes. These holes are usually in earth banks on the sides of rivers, lakes or man-made ditches. Some species may nest in holes in trees, the earth clinging to the roots of an uprooted tree, or arboreal nests of termites. Nest-digging duties are shared between the sexes. Who said equality did not exist? The length of the tunnels varies by species and location, with the longest tunnels recorded are those of the Giant Kingfisher, which have been found to be 28 feet (8.5m) long. The eggs of Kingfishers are invariably white and glossy, with typical clutch size varying by species; some of the very large and very small species lay as few as two eggs per clutch, whereas others may lay 10 eggs. Both sexes incubate the eggs and once hatched both parents feed the young.
The photo’s you see above have been feeding their young recently, this is quite late in the year as the young have not hatched to long ago. However this is the third time the pair have bred this year, unfortunately both the first and second broods were washed away in the torrential rain that hit the UK during spring and the summer of this year.
Next time you see Kingfishers on this blog, I am hoping they are from a far exotic place, who knows maybe I am lucky enough to experience the joys of the Gambia.