The Belted Kingfisher

by Marlene Burkholder | May 1, 2023 | 0 comments

One sunny May morning, I saw two kingfishers! I assumed they were just flying around and wouldn’t stay long. To my surprise, they seemed to be staying around. They would swoop past our kitchen window, calling out loudly with their rattling call.

Then one day my younger sisters and cousins found a small hole several inches deep in a dirt pile that was left over from digging our basement. It was about 20 feet (6 m) from the kitchen window. Several times we thought they had deserted the burrow, but, to our delight, they came back again.

I had thought that kingfishers would build their nests only in river banks. But since then I have had several extensions of my knowledge about that matter.

We were excited to occasionally catch sight of a kingfisher disappearing into the burrow. Dirt would fly out of the hole, reminding us of a naughty puppy digging in a flower bed. It would dig for a few minutes, then back out and fly away.

One Sunday several weeks later, Dad saw it fly in, and we all watched until it flew away. This time the kingfisher came out head first. We decided they must be making the nesting cavity, and were now able to turn around at the end of the burrow.

One day when we shone a flashlight in to show our grandma the nest, we were delighted to see two beady eyes watching us. The incubation period had begun! Unfortunately, we were never able to see the eggs.

After returning from a trip on July 6, I looked into the burrow and saw a downy gray head. Exciting! The nestlings had hatched. In a week’s time they went from gray down to blue pinfeathers. The baby kingfishers moved their beaks back and forth in such an amusing way, sounding almost identical to their parents. After a couple of weeks, we saw the baby birds poking their beaks out of the hole, exploring the world outside their dark nesting cavity.

As the nestlings grew, the kingfisher parents took the fish only to the mouth of the burrow, forcing the little ones to come forward to get their meals. One windy afternoon, I was observing them for a while. Every time the parents came with a fish, they would fly around, calling to their nestlings. Occasionally, they would swoop down, fly right past the hole, and then fly away again, calling loudly all the while. It seemed they were encouraging their youngsters to leave the nest.

Sunday, July twenty-eight, we were away all day, and we assume that’s when most of them flew away. On Monday, just as the sky was beginning to lighten, Mom saw the last fledgling sitting at the entrance of the burrow. One of the parent birds was calling to him, coaxing him to leave the nest.

Midmorning, our dog was running in and out of the weeds on the dirt pile as if she were searching for something. We penned her in the shop while we went to run some errands. When we came home, the burrow was deserted. We were disappointed that we didn’t see any of the babies fly away.

Later, I saw a kingfisher flying to the electric line. After about five minutes, it flew to the neighbors, circled around a few times, and then disappeared out of sight. Later in the evening I saw it again for the last time.

We will miss our “neighbors’” rattling calls as they wing from tree to tree and glide down to feed their babies, only to leave again and search for more grub.

The winter following, a mouse used the abandoned burrow as his home for the season. When summer rolled around, we hired someone to do our landscaping. I hoped the kingfishers would decide to raise their family elsewhere.

Thankfully they did. All was going well till Dad discovered that a Tree Sparrow had built its nest in the tall weeds on the dirt pile. But the little sparrows left the nest the day before we leveled the pile.

We were thankful we hadn’t gotten excavating done or we would’ve missed the opportunity of having a kingfisher nest visible from our kitchen window. I don’t think my mom’s counters are any worse for wear since I spent time photographing on them. The house was a perfect blind.

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