Thursday, 2 May 2013

White-throated Kingfishers nesting behavior

Early in the New Year the Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters are busy hunting bees and going about their nesting duties. Paddyfield Pipits patrol the grassy area that was my 'studio'.

In the same area I estimate there are 4-5 pairs of White-throated Kingfishers. Last year my two favorite pair had a couple of attempts at nesting.  It was quite clear that there were some problems because they were actively feeding and suddenly gave up. I have written a previous blog about their hunting behavior.....this one covers a successful nesting cycle.
Normally 4-7 eggs are laid by the female in a cavity inside a tunnel that is around 24 inches long.  Eggs are laid on different days so that there is a difference in chick size and clearly the ability to compete for food. The female of the pair last year had several toes missing and certainly by the end of the season in July she looked rather ragged. The male appeared to have have taken another mate this year. This female was a beautiful specimen with immaculate feathers and a deeper than normal blue coloration. She was a little na├»ve at times when hunting larger prey but quickly learnt to adapt.  This species of kingfisher communicate with each other by a form of semaphore whereby they open the wings either very briefly of for sustained periods. It is thought that the white patch on their wings provides a clear visual signal to each other. They also call frequently.

In the early months of 2013 the pair hunted individually or together. Sometimes the male could be seen giving his catch to the female.

Mating usually takes place early in the pre-dawn hours. I saw the pair under observation mate several times around 7am as early as the end of January. 

There was a well-established nest hole on a muddy bank that was used last year but this was ignored and a new nest cavity was made further along the same bank. 

The kingfishers favorite perching tree was nearby and this provided a staging post for hunting and for trips to the nest. Eggs hatch 20-22 days after laying and in early April I was pleased to see them feeding the new nest.  There were the remains of a dead tree about 4 meters from the nest that they often landed on prior to entering the nest cavity. I was surprised to see the size and variety of prey delivered to chicks that would only have been days old. Both parents were busy feeding the nest with prey ranging from small insects to skinks and frogs. One prey looked like fledgling chicks from another bird species. Towards the end of the feeding the female made trips to he nest in a bit over four hours.

After arriving on the skeletal tree they aimed at the nest hole and took off. Delivery and the return was over quickly .............the prey must have been dumped in the first gaping mouth. It was noted that when a frog was caught it was placed in a 'streamline' position in the beak to be readily received by the chicks

The Red-wattled Lapwings had nests on the ground nearby and later small chicks but these birds aggressively chased off foraging kingfishers. The Bee-eater species had changed with the Blue-throated having taken over from the Chestnut-headed. They were mating and digging holes to raise their brood.

It was fortuitous that the early morning light was at right angles to the line the kingfishers took from the tree to their nest hole. This allowed for high ISO settings and speeds up to 1/4000th second to record the action with incoming prey. My shots were done with a 500mm lens, either on its own or with a 1.4x extender that narrows the focal depth but smoothens the background. All shooting was done from a car window on a beanbag. It is pertinent to add that at no time were the Kingfishers stressed or deviated from their normal behavior by my/our presence.

I could only place the egg hatching within 3 days but from my reckoning the first chicks fledged 20-22 days from hatching. When the first chicks fledged the parents stopped feeding the nest…no doubt pre-occupied trying to provide for the demanding fledglings.  The newly fledged chicks were competent fliers, had under-developed tails , white eye-rings, darker bills and less flamboyant leg coloration

Like many things in nature it would be a survival of the fittest with the first hatchlings having a considerable advantage over those that were last. It was nonetheless satisfying to see the cycle of life with these kingfishers that had provided, entertainment, information and photo-opportunities. As the kingfishers complete their cycle the Blue-throated Bee-eaters are silhouetted by the sunrise waiting to complete their breeding cycle.


  1. I'm speechless. Stunning set of images and a very detailed write-up. Great stuff, Graeme!

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