After a 4 month absence, we have finally seen the return of the Kingfisher!
There have been two sightings here at the Visitor Centre, with an individual seen on the ‘Kingfisher perch’ on both the 30th of July and the 2nd of August. So why has it been so long since this iconic bird has been seen, and what have they been doing for the past 4 months?
The reason for this absence is that they have probably been away breeding. Kingfishers build their nests and establish their territories along stretches of shallow, unpolluted and translucent freshwater with plenty of cover at the edges, providing perches to fish from. Another essential requirement for nesting kingfishers is a vertical wall at least 1.5m high that can be burrowed into. This means the visitor centre grounds aren’t ideal nesting sites for the species, as there is no stretch of slow moving water here and no vertical walls that they can nest in, apart from the artificial wall already claimed by the Sand Martins. Kingfishers have a long breeding season from March until July and will therefore re-locate to suitable breeding grounds during this period, explaining why there were no sightings in front of the centre since the 30th of March. In our case the most suitable nesting sites for the species are the banks of the river South Esk, at the western end of the reserve, probably where they relocated to. Kingfishers feed on small fish such as minnows, fry and stickleback, often supplemented with aquatic insects and small molluscs, with about 100 small fish each day needing to be caught to successfully rear a brood. This is the reason why the nesting sites are ideally situated next to the best fishing waters, although pairs may nest up to 250m from their feeding sites. This is again a reason why there has been a lack of sightings in the past 4 months, as despite the visitor centre ponds being good fishing sites, they are located too far from the nesting sites. Flying such a distance isn’t viable when you need to catch 100 fish each day!
Even before the breeding season begins adult pairs will start looking for nesting sites, explaining the reduction in sightings here from early spring. At the end of the breeding season the young are driven out of the nesting territory by their parents, perhaps explaining the recent sightings here. The best way to identify a juvenile Kingfisher from an adult is by looking at its feet, with juveniles having much duller feet than adults. From watching the video above it’s hard to decipher the colour of the feet, so we can’t confirm whether this is a juvenile or an adult. Juveniles are also slightly more compact than adults and have a slightly duller plumage. What can be seen better from the video footage is the beak, which appears fully black with no apparent red on the lower mandible, meaning this individual is a male.
So with the breeding season now coming to an end, we will hopefully see the Kingfishers disperse from their breeding grounds and start returning to the centre pools to fish. Last year we had almost daily sightings of a male and female individual throughout autumn and winter, so fingers crossed for the same this year.
Visitor Centre Assistant Manager.