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News story by:
Bill Schiess

Belted kingfishers still active on warm springs this winter

December 3, 2022

While watching Trumpeter swans and Mallard ducks feeding along the Texas Slough in the Burton area, west of Rexburg, two flashes of powder-blue caught my attention. The raucous rattling sound indicated a pair of belted kingfishers were chasing each other along warm seeps where minnows were trapped in pockets of water. The male had caught […] The post Belted kingfishers still active on warm springs this winter appeared first on East Idaho News .

A female kingfisher lands near the water for a closer look for some food. | Bill Schiess, EastIdahoNews.com While watching Trumpeter swans and Mallard ducks feeding along the Texas Slough in the Burton area, west of Rexburg, two flashes of powder-blue caught my attention. The raucous rattling sound indicated a pair of belted kingfishers were chasing each other along warm seeps where minnows were trapped in pockets of water. The male had caught a small fish and was trying to deliver it to the female; but she was not having anything to do with his advances. It was winter, snow on the ground and the day after Thanksgiving – wrong time of the season to be flirting with each other. I watched as the two of them flew high into the air, making looping sorties over the willow-lined canal only to eventually land on a willow to watch for a hapless minnow. I noted the favorite places that the two would land and spent part the next three days trying to get pictures of the two. Most days I struck out, but eventually they cooperated, and I got some lucky landings. When looking for belted kingfishers, you will usually hear them before you see them as their calls are a distinctive rattle as they hunt along area rivers and streams. If you have a chance to observe them closely, you will notice that they never have a good hair day; their large, disheveled crest always looks messed up. A male kingfisher leaves its perch as it dives toward the water to harvest a small fish on the Henrys Fork of the Snake River. | Bill Schiess, EastIdahoNews.com Their second most recognizable feature is their very large bill that can be used as a spear or for grasping small aquatic creatures to swallow. Their bill is also a major house building tool. After the female has chosen a significant other, who had already chosen a piece of property, together they dig a burrow up to eight feet long in a clay bank. That is a whole lot of digging and suitable places must be hard to find as they do not have realtors lined up to help them. Maybe that is why their hair is all messed up – they don’t have enough time to make it look pretty. Once the home is built, a nest is finished at the end of the tunnel and Mom lays from six to eight eggs. They share sitting chores with the female sitting during the night and Dad sits on the eggs during most days. They do not tolerate other kingfishers nearby, but they do allow other burrowing neighbors like bank swallows to use the tunnel to nest in. The only requirement is that the swallows must build additions off the main entrance as to not block the tunnel. How that arrangement is made is unknown and higher than my paygrade. A female belted kingfisher chatters as it surveys water waiting for a minnow to make a fatal mistake. | Bill Schiess, EastIdahoNews.com Once the eggs hatch, the young are fed regurgitated fish puree from the parents. This may include some bones, but the babes are blessed with the ability to digest those bones and other crunchies in the yummy stuff. Adult kingfishers are like owls, they lose the ability to digest bones, but produce pellets that they cough up and deposit outside their home. Unlike most birds, the females are more colorful than the males. The females have a rust colored “belt” across their body while the male does not have. I have also found that the females are more vocal than their counterpart. I was surprised to find this couple still together last week and by now most kingfishers are found alone. I was also surprised to find a lose group of six together near Chester Dam on Thursday. They were fishing and appeared to be a family group. Small groups of kingfishers are called a “rattle of kingfishers.” I will continue to try to follow this pair as long as the roads are passible where they do most of their fishing, but the small seeps of water are drying up and the black-billed magpies are quickly eating the minnows. But the kingfishers along the Henrys Fork of the Snake River will remain active all winter. If you get a chance to watch and study them, it can be very enjoyable. A male belted kingfisher surveys a seep from it perch along the Texas Slough in Burton. | Bill Schiess, EastIdahoNews.com The post Belted kingfishers still active on warm springs this winter appeared first on East Idaho News .

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