04 March 2011

Sacred Kingfisher – Todiramphus sanctus

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Sacred Kingfisher – Todiramphus sanctus

In the Esperance region, the Sacred Kingfisher is a spring to autumn migrant, returning to Northern Australia, New Guinea and tropical islands for winter. Locally in spring, you are suddenly made aware of their presence by their loud distinctive four-note call to establish territory and find a mate. Sacred Kingfishers nest in tree hollows or tunnel into steep sandy banks and as they are relatively small (to 23 cm or 9” total length), they do not need large nesting holes, so can usually find a suitable hollow not occupied by feral bees who would find their hollow too small to occupy.

The Kingfisher above is a juvenile (adults do not have the brown bars on the chest and wings) and crashed with a great thud into my window, knocking itself out. It revived when picked up but was very groggy and made no attempt to escape; not wishing to miss an opportunity (locally these birds are not easy to approach) I took several photos. Afterwards I placed the still groggy bird in a shady spot on a wooden chair rail, where it remained for over an hour before flying away. However it would have quite a headache, although with the force of impact it was lucky it did not break its neck.

Despite the popular concept of Kingfishers hunting fish in aquatic environments, I can say that locally they would quickly get very hungry as permanent water, let alone freshwater fish are quite rare, therefore they must rely on small lizards and invertebrates for sustenance. As an additional observation, the wing and back feathers change from blue to turquoise, depending whether the bird is in the sun or shade, or the angle of light.

In WA the common Laughing Kookaburra does not occur naturally, but via introductions it is now firmly entrenched in the SW of the State to take advantage of the tall forests and larger tree hollows in which to breed. Because of the shortage of large old trees in the Esperance region, it is unlikely they will colonise here to any extent. So hopefully the Scared Kingfisher will continue to be the only local Kingfisher species, even if only a visitor.