Bird Watcher's General Store

Kingfishers - 06/22/01


Dear Bird Folks,

The other day a bird flew across a pond near my house. It was making a loud, harsh call. My aunt told me that it was a "King Fish." Are they common around here?

- Joan, Barnstable

Well Joan,

Your aunt was close. The bird that you saw was a "kingfisher," not a "king fish." Your aunt must be having flashbacks of the old "Amos 'n Andy" shows. The belted kingfisher is one of the coolest birds you'll ever see on Cape Cod and, yes, they are fairly common.

I really get a kick out of kingfishers because they seem to hate everybody and everything. They are like a flying badger, always in a bad mood. Their call is a loud, harsh, dry, rattle that can be heard at great distances. If you happen to come upon a perched kingfisher, it will immediately take off cursing you and your entire family as it flies away. Some scientists have said an English translation of the kingfisher's call is "#*&+~*#@!," but this has never been proven.

Even when they are courting, kingfishers sound nasty. I watched a pair courting a few weeks ago and the whole time they just screamed at each other. It was like listening to a pair of lawyers on a date.

Kingfishers can be found on the Cape year round. They are always near water and, as their name implies, they eat mostly fish, which they hunt from the air. Hovering like terns, kingfishers dive head first into the water with a hugh splash. They then will fly to their favorite perch for lunch, cursing all the way.

One of the most unique things about kingfishers is their nesting behavior. Kinfishers nest in underground burrows like gophers. They make 6-foot long tunnels in the sides of sand cliffs or dirt banks. At the end of the tunnel they build a large, round chamber where they lay their eggs. Both the male and female work on building these long tunnels that can be dug at a rate of a foot a day. In fact, kingfishers were supposed to do all the excavating for The Big Dig in Boston, but that idea ended when they refused to join the union.

So, Joan, keep your eyes and ears open anytime you are near water. You are bound to see and hear a kingfisher, one of the coolest birds on Cape Cod. Just don't try to make friends with it, because it hates you and there ain't nothing you can do about it.



Artwork by Catherine Clark


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