Even as a child walking home from school I
knew the rattling sound of the Belted Kingfisher. It's loud call
announced the bird's presence long before he flew into view. As
he patrolled up and down the creek he would suddenly stop on a
snag that often overhung the water where he would look for small
fish and crayfish lurking just below the surface. Once the
kingfisher locked onto his next meal he would launch himself
from his perch with a straight-as-a-string flight and dive, head
first, into the water. With an enormous dagger-like beak, the
tiny fish would be held like pincers. The bird would then fly
back to a perch to enjoy his meal.
One of our most widely distributed birds,
Belted Kingfishers are found throughout North and Central
America. Always associated with water, the kingfishers make a
living as their name implies - they "fish" for their meals.
Watch for them perched on utility wires and poles, on bridges
and trees anywhere near fresh or salt water. At times the Belted
Kingfisher will hover up to 40 feet over the water like a
kestrel or a helicopter before making his dive.
The bird's food source has caused it to be
persecuted (shot) by man and viewed as a significant predator of
fish, especially at fish farms. According to Birds of North
America, online, over 400 birds were shot or trapped at a
private fish farm near Lake Michigan during one spring
migration. Fortunately, migratory bird laws have since been
enacted thus affording the birds some protection. There still
may be some illegal shooting of birds at some fish hatcheries.
For these reasons Belted Kingfishers will not
allow close approach by man. They are a naturally skittish
species and I don't blame them. The birds coloration appears a
slate blue above and mostly white below. Oddly enough in this
species, the female bird is the most colorful with a rusty red
band around her lower belly. Their size is somewhere between a
Blue Jay and a crow.
Because I live on a neighborhood lake I see
and hear Belted Kingfishers almost anytime I am outside. As a
bird photographer I longed for a nature photographer's dream
trifecta. I wanted a three-pronged miracle photograph: first was
a kingfisher at very close range (25 feet or less); secondly I
wanted to photograph the female for the added color she has; and
thirdly, I wanted the bird to have a fish in it's beak. I wasn't
asking much was I?
After years of observing patterns of behavior
and photographing them I finally got my wish. On Saturday,
November 21, 2015 a female landed on my perch with a small fry
clutched tightly in her beak. She proceeded to beat the tiny
fish against the tree limb perch to subdue the fish before she
swallowed it head first. As I watched the sequence of events
unfold through the camera's viewfinder I knew this was special
because all three of my requirements were met in this one
moment. Perhaps I should have purchased a lottery ticket
afterwards because I felt like the luckiest man in Americus, or
at least at Lake Jennifer!