When is a common kingfisher not a common kingfisher?

The answer is simple… when it is not a Common Kingfisher, but actually is a common kingfisher. Confused? I’m not surprised…

In Singapore, we’re blessed with several species of Kingfishers. Recently I posted a blogpost about a River Kingfisher, the “Stork Billed Kingfisher” whereas today’s subject is a Tree Kingfisher, the “White Throated Kingfisher” (WTKF). In Singapore they’re very common, whereas the Common Kingfisher, a completely different bird, ironically isn’t so common and only graces our shores between September to March.  So what’s in a name?

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Common Kingfisher, migrant in Singapore

Common Kingfishers in Singapore are the same as we see in the UK… after all, the UK really only has that one species of kingfisher.

These birds are sadly not with us year round, as they are really pretty.  The example (left) was taken earlier this year and shot from a distance of around 30 metres.

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White Throated Kingfisher – Singapore’s most common kingfisher species.

Singapore’s “common” kingfisher, from a frequency of distribution perspective,  is called the White Throated Kingfisher and they are very widespread indeed. As they have evolved into “tree kingfishers”, WTKF’s are happy to take fish, though they more commonly dine on other prey. This includes large insects, amphibians, small reptiles such as ghekos and other lizards, to name but a few.

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The “sentry” stands guard on a man made perch…

Most anywhere you go around the island, you’ll see these birds, whether in urban, forest / jungle or around waterways. The bird is highly adaptable and for its’ size is sufficiently aggressive to stake out territories in which it hunts and feeds.

They’re most commonly seen perched, as if ‘standing guard’ over their hunting areas that have been staked out as their own.  They’ll happily be every bit as at home perched on a man made structure, such as steel fencing, street signs and the like, and this is where they are often seen most.

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A ‘more natural’ perch and pose.

Additionally,  they’ll undertake their guard duties and hunting activities from natural perches, and often within proximity to urban life and dwellings.

There are rich pickings to be had in such habitats for a bird such as this, who despite its’ hunting skills, has evolved to master scavenging type feeding activity without any problems whatsoever. I imagine this is why its’ distribution across the island is so widespread.

Some of these WTKF’s live in very close proximity to waterways and in these instances have a greater affinity to behave more like a river kingfisher. Fish becomes elevated as a food source… not to the exclusion of other food, but as a higher priority.

I’ve been watching WTKF’s fishing for some time now, and unlike river kingfishers, it is clear that the WTKF does not prefer to get itself wet. As a result it has developed hunting strategies and techniques that differ materially from river kingfishers. The latter dive with extreme gusto, causing the water to erupt, the bird to momentarily disappear, to shortly thereafter emerge from the water with either its’ prey, or obvious disappointment. WTKF’s do not undergo this perpetual diving / emerging / feeding / drying / preening / diving cycle; their hunting forays seem less ambitious, more conservative, perhaps practical even, and definitely less flamboyant. Or so I thought…

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Low Trajectory flight over water espying fish close to the surface.

The WTKF chooses to have a very flat trajectory over the water, as it searches out fish that are either on, or very near to, the surface. The bird has seen activity when perched and then proceeds to “zoom in” for a closer look in the place(s) where they believe their prey will most likely be able to be caught.

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Fish jump out of the water in alarm as the WTKF embarks on its’ hunting foray…

At times the bird is in such close proximity to fish that are near the surface that the potential prey is clearly visible. In the picture (left) you can clearly see the fish jumping out of the WTKF’s flight path as they deploy their avoidance strategies in order to avert becoming the ‘next meal’.

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Hunting by “touch”, skimming the surface with dexterity and precision of flight.

The bird at times adopts strategies somewhat similar to “Skimmers” in India, for example, and upon seeing prey on its’ flight path, proceeds to dip the bill in the water in order to locate and entrap their prey.

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An “in motion, fly-by catch” sees a fish captured with some precision.

When prey is located, the WTKF will then proceed to arch the head backwards to catch the fish, all whilst still I’m motion, and all the time remaining as dry as possible! The flight may be slowed at this point  to enable the subtle entrapment of the fish in the birds’ mandibles (kingfishers typically fly at around 40- 50+ Kmph in a straight line).

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Gotcha!

Once the prey is caught, then the bird adjusts its’ posture to remain in flight and regain a more traditional flight pattern, all the time making sure that the prey is held onto tightly.

The prey is pulled free from its’ watery home and both bird and fish take to the air, one willingly and the other with far less enthusiasm :).

 

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OK… let’s go eat!

After that it’s merely a case of returning to a perch where the meal can be enjoyed in peace.

These birds may well be common, but I never tire of seeing them proudly perched aloft, surveying their patch, hunting therein and defending their territory with vigour and astonishing volume when agitated or angry.

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On lookout duty…

So there you have it.

A common kingfisher in Singapore that’s not actually a Common Kingfisher.

And certainly one that does not behave in traditional kingfisher ways in its’ pursuit of prey.

 

 

I hope I get more chances to photograph these birds in future…

Happy Days 🙂

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “When is a common kingfisher not a common kingfisher?”

  1. Lovely post! Lovely photos! The WTKF is common here in Sri Lanka too, we’ve watched one swallow a lizard that didn’t look like it could possibly fit inside its little body, but down it went, beaten to a manageable softness!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good Observation point on “The flight may be slowed at this point to enable the subtle entrapment of the fish in the birds’ mandibles”
    I used to watch them in India and dint quite know why were they doing that

    Like

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