No-one could make the general statement that the NZ Kingfisher (Todiramphus sanctus) is a boring bird. The clearly-defined color scheme of secondary opposites, the sharp haircut, the extraordinary flying, hunting and diving skills all make for an exciting avian package.
And it’s certainly hard to beat that metallic color scheme.
Even the nest-building process seems a little ‘over the top’: the kingfisher flies repeatedly at the chosen spot in a bank or tree trunk, using its beak (another very significant feature) as a drilling or ‘boring’ tool until it has drilled a large enough hole to give it purchase to continue excavations in a more standard fashion. A woodpecker on steroids, in fact.
That beak is surprisingly large, when you see it in silhouette, and very useful for catching prey (especially fish, for which the Kingfisher will dive up to 3 ft underwater, and small vertebrates), as well as drilling holes. Its shape is a direct giveaway to the family relationship between Kingfishers and Australian Kookaburras (Dacelo novaeguineae) – both Southwest Pacific birds.
Laughing Kookaburras are quite a lot larger (39-45cm / 310-480gm for the Kookaburra as against 23cm / 55gm for the Kingfisher), but the outline and proportions of the two species have a great similarity.
Kingfishers scanning for prey, Waioeka Flats, Bay of Plenty. Illustration for the book ‘Taketakerau The Millennium Tree’ (2012).
My one complaint about the Kingfisher, and the reason why against all the odds I often tell him he’s ‘boring’ is the call. It is a very harsh, unmusical ‘keek’, repeated either strung together quickly 4 or 5 times (over and over), or repeated once at intervals of of 5 or 6 seconds (again – over and over). Either way, it can after a while quite simply get on your nerves.
I only wish the Kingfisher had inherited from the Kookaburra side of the family, the distinctive laughing call for which Kookaburras are renowned. Just think of it, I would be able to roll on the floor laughing when the Kingfisher gives voice (which is quite often), instead of saying, “Aargh, shut up boy….!”
And if you don’t happen to know what the Kookaburra sounds like, give yourself a treat and go HERE. Scroll down and run the Sounds files (especially the second one) – and make sure you have some room on the floor…