The kingfisher is one of the most beautiful birds found in Europe. Because of their bright colors and small size, people call the kingfisher the European hummingbird, and they are not far from the truth, since both these birds are very beautiful and graceful in the air. According to biblical legend, the kingfisher got such a bright color after the Great Flood. Noah released the bird from the ark, and it flew so high that its feathers took on the color of the sky, and the sun scorched its breast and it turned red.
Origin of the species and description
Kingfishers have been known since ancient times and their first descriptions date back to the 2nd century BC. Due to their unpretentiousness and resistance to low temperatures, representatives of the kingfisher family live on a vast territory from Africa to Russia.
The kingfisher family (English name Alcedinidae) is a large order of birds, which includes seven full-fledged species that differ from each other color, size and habitat.
At the same time, kingfishers of all types are distinguished by the following features:
- small size (up to 50 grams);
- elongated beak ideal for catching fish;
- short tail and wings;
- bright color;
- lifespan 12-15 years;
- short and weak legs, not intended for long-term movement along tree branches or the ground.
Representatives of males and females have the same color, but males are about one and a half times larger than females. Feathers of birds are dull, covered with a thin fatty film that protects the plumage from getting wet. Only bright sunlight can make kingfishers bright and spectacular.
Interesting fact: The red or bright orange plumage of a bird has a rare carotenoid pigment. Due to the presence of this pigment, the color of the bird has a pronounced metallic sheen.
In addition, kingfishers do not like noise and fuss, preferring a solitary lifestyle. They try not to settle near human dwellings and avoid meeting with him. Birdsong is most reminiscent of the chirping of sparrows and is not very pleasant for human hearing.
Appearance and features
The appearance of a kingfisher depends on the species to which it belongs.
Classical ornithology classifies kingfishers into 6 different species:
- ordinary (blue). The most common type of bird. That’s what people see the most. The blue kingfisher lives from northern Africa to northwestern Russia. This very spectacular bird settles on the banks of large rivers. Unfortunately, over the years, the population of the common kingfisher decreases as people increase their presence and there are simply no secluded places for birds to nest;
- striped. The heat-loving bird breeds only in the Asian part of Eurasia and several tropical islands. Differs in increased size (up to 16 centimeters) and males flaunt a bright blue stripe on the chest;
- big blue. The largest variety of kingfisher (up to 22 centimeters). They differ from the common kingfisher in size and brighter coloration. The bird does not seem blue, but bright blue, the color of the summer sky. Such birds are found in a very small area at the foot of the Himalayas and in the southern provinces of China;
- turquoise. Heat-loving African. The bulk of turquoise kingfishers nest along the banks of the Nile and Limpopo. As you might guess, the main difference between this variety is that its color has a pronounced turquoise hue and a white neck. The turquoise kingfisher is able to survive severe drought and is able to catch even small water snakes.
- cyanotic. They live in Asian countries. They are distinguished by their small size and high mobility, which makes it possible to hunt the most agile fry. However, their main distinguishing feature is the blue plumage on the top of the head and the orange belly;
- cobalt. It is distinguished by a dark cobalt color of plumage. It nests in the jungles of South America and such a dark color helps the bird camouflage against the background of slow and full-flowing rivers.
Now you know what a kingfisher bird looks like. Let’s see where this animal lives.
Where does the kingfisher live?
As before mentioned above, the habitat of the kingfisher is very extensive. Various bird species thrive in Eurasia, Africa and even South America. Kingfishers can be found in the exotic Indonesian archipelago, the Caribbean islands and even New Zealand.
Despite the harsh climate of Russia, the kingfisher is found here quite often. According to the calculations of ornithologists, several thousand pairs of birds nest in the vicinity of such Siberian cities as Tomsk, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk. The northernmost breeding was recorded at the mouth of the Angara, as well as on the border with Kazakhstan (near Pavlodar).
But the largest population of kingfishers is in Italy. In 2017, about 10 thousand individuals were registered nesting in the northern regions of the country. In the past few years, small families have been seen in the Crimea, as well as in the Kuban. There is an opinion that there is a gradual migration and the number of kingfishers in Russia will grow.
The situation is aggravated by the fact that the kingfisher is very picky about nesting sites. It will live and breed only in the immediate vicinity of a river with flowing (but not fast-flowing) water with high sandy or clay banks. The bird does not like not only the neighborhood with a person, but also with other birds. Naturally, such strict requirements are becoming less and less common and the number of kingfishers is decreasing year by year.
What does a kingfisher eat?
The bird’s diet is very unusual. It eats only what is found in the river.
The main and main dish for the kingfisher is small fish, but the diet may also include:
- tadpoles and small frogs;
- water snakes (in Africa and South America);
- small mollusks;
- aquatic insects.
The kingfisher is an unsurpassed diver, and is able to move under water at high speed. Hunting for prey is as follows. The bird freezes in the branches of trees on the seashore and can sit motionless for several tens of minutes.
Then, noticing the prey, the kingfisher instantly falls into the water, grabs a fry or a fish and immediately emerges back. It is worth noting that this bird never swallows its prey alive. She hits the fish hard against a tree or the ground several times, and after making sure that the victim is dead, she swallows it.
Despite the fact that the bird is small in size and weighs only a few tens of grams, it can catch and eat 10-12 fish during daylight hours. When the time comes to feed the female and chicks in the nest, the male’s catch increases by one and a half times. At this time, the total weight caught per day of fish may exceed the weight of the kingfisher itself. The bird does not recognize artificial feeding and feeds exclusively on what it can catch on its own.
Character and lifestyle features
The kingfisher is one of the few birds on the globe that feels equally good in three elements: on earth, in water and in the air. On the ground, birds dig (or find) minks in which they breed. In the water, kingfishers find food, and often simply bathe. And in the air, these birds are able to work real miracles, demonstrating grace and grace.
The bird prefers an isolated lifestyle, and keeps aloof not only from other birds, but even from its own relatives. Unlike swallows, which dig their burrows a few centimeters apart, the minimum distance between kingfisher burrows is 300-400 meters. Ideally, this distance reaches 1 kilometer.
Other birds that fly into the territory of the kingfisher are considered enemies, and the bird immediately begins to attack them. Therefore, in the spring you can often see kingfishers dividing the territory or howling for the most comfortable minks.
It is worth saying that the kingfisher is not distinguished by cleanliness. There is a stench around the place of its nesting, as the bird regurgitates bones either in the mink itself or near it. The kingfisher is intolerant of chick droppings and it mixes with the bones and remains of rotting fish, resulting in a persistent and unpleasant odor.
Social structure and reproduction
Kingfishers are essentially pronounced individualists. They avoid the pack lifestyle and live only in pairs. Because of this lifestyle, it is commonly believed that kingfishers form a stable pair, but this is far from the case. Often, males enter into polygamous relationships and start several families.
The formation of a pair occurs as follows. The male presents the female with a freshly caught fish (or other prey) and if the offering is accepted, then a stable pair is formed that can last for several seasons.
Interesting fact: After the end of the warm season the pair breaks up and the birds fly separately for wintering, often in different flocks. But with the beginning of the new season, the couple converges again and settles in the old mink.
The kingfisher is a rare species of bird that digs minks in the ground. The usual place for a mink is a steep river bank in the immediate vicinity of the water. Often the bird masks the nest with plants or shrubs. A fully equipped nest can be 1 meter long. The mink necessarily ends with a large chamber, and it is there that the bird equips its nest. Moreover, the bird lays eggs without bedding, right on the bare ground.
On average, the kingfisher lays 5-7 eggs, but there are cases when the clutch exceeded 10 eggs and the parents managed to feed all the chicks. Both parents participate in incubation of eggs. All three weeks they sit on the eggs in turn, observing a strict sequence and not neglecting their duties.
Kingfisher chicks are born blind and without feathers, but grow very quickly. For active growth, they require a large amount of food and parents have to catch fish and other river inhabitants from dawn to dusk. A month later, young chicks fly out of the nest and begin to hunt on their own.
The size and brightness of their plumage are inferior to adults, although they are no less agile in the air. For several days, young kingfishers fly with their parents and continue to take food from them, but later fly away from their native nest. In warm countries, kingfishers have time to breed 2 offspring before flying away for the winter.
Kingfisher’s natural enemies
In the wild, the kingfisher does not have many enemies. These include only hawks and falcons. The fact is that the kingfisher is very cautious and camouflages its hole well. Even while hunting, the bird sits motionless on a tree and does not attract the attention of predators.
In addition, in the air, the kingfisher is able to reach speeds of up to 70 kilometers per hour, and even a fast hawk is not easy to catch such a swift prey. All this makes it a very difficult prey, and birds of prey rarely hunt the kingfisher, trying to find easier prey.
Such forest predators as foxes, ferrets and martens also cannot harm the birds or destroy the nest. Four-legged predators simply do not crawl into the hole and cannot get the eggs with their paws. Young individuals are most at risk, as they are not yet cautious enough and can be attacked by birds of prey.
The greatest harm to kingfishers is caused by human activities, due to which the bird’s habitat is reduced and the number of places suitable for nesting is reduced. Cases when kingfishers die due to pollution of rivers or a decrease in the number of fish have become more frequent. It happens that the male is forced to leave the nest with the chicks, as he is simply unable to feed the family. This causes the chicks to starve to death.
Population and species status
Fortunately, the kingfisher population is not in danger. Only on the Eurasian continent ornithologists count about 300 thousand birds and their number remains stable.
As already mentioned, the largest population of kingfishers in Europe is in Italy. There are about 100 thousand individuals in this country. The second place in the distribution of birds is occupied by Russia. The distribution area of kingfishers stretches over a vast territory, from the upper reaches of the Don and St. Petersburg to the mouth of the Dvina and the border regions with Kazakhstan.
In the past few years, kingfishers have been seen in the Meshchera National Park, which is located on the border of the Ryazan, Vladimir and Moscow regions. Thus, these birds feel great just two hundred kilometers from the capital of Russia.
In Africa, South America and Asian countries, the exact number of kingfishers is not known, but even according to the most conservative estimates, their number is at least half a million. Large uninhabited territories of the African continent are the best suited for this bird.
The only region on the planet where the kingfisher is listed in the Red Book is Buryatia. But there, a decrease in the number of birds occurred due to the construction of hydroelectric power plants, which upset the ecological balance of the rivers and reduced the habitat of kingfishers.
The kingfisher is one of the most beautiful birds on the globe. This unique creature thrives on land, water and air, and people should do everything possible to keep the population of these birds at the same level.