Kingfishers nesting again

The breeding season is upon us again and the Kingfishers have returned to the bank at Shugborough. With last year having been blighted by 2 nest burrows being destroyed by badgers, this year I’ve fortified the top of the bank with a large metal grid. The kingfishers started their burrow early March, but after I spent time placing the grid above the burrow, they then decided to move a few feet upstream, so I had to move the grid. Hopefully they’re settled now and I’m just hoping that this year they can have a better season and raise 2 or 3 broods.

2014 Kingfisher roundup

female-2014a-800I last posted about the Kingfishers on the Trent back in June, so I thought it was about time I posted an update to summarise what happened after the first nest was dug out by a badger.

Unfortunately I have to report that the badger came back and predated the second nest burrow, after which the kingfishers abandoned the nest bank . I don’t know whether the adults survived the second attack, but after it happened in early July, I have only seen a solitary adult bird within the territory, which is not a good sign.

On a more positive note, I’m happy to report that the nest site a couple of miles downstream that was abandoned a couple of years ago was once again host to a pair of Kingfishers. This nest site, opposite a viewpoint at a local nature reserve gave many people the opportunity to watch young Kingfishers learning to fish in late summer and gives me some confidence that there are a good number of birds holding winter territories ready for the 2015 breeding season, when I hope the Shugborough nest bank will be host to a breeding pair again.

Feeding young

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After the failure of the first nest burrow, the kingfishers wasted no time excavating a new burrow. A month later and for the first time this year I’ve seen fish being taken into the nest, a sure sign that the eggs have hatched and the adults are now feeding young. The new burrow is lower on the bank than the first, so I am hoping that it will be out of reach of the badger that destroyed the first nest. The location of the nest is a difficult balancing act for the kingfishers to pull off. Too high and the nest can fall victim to predators from above, but too low and the nest becomes vulnerable to flooding and other predators such as mink. It really is a dangerous business for the kingfishers.

In the burrow after hatching

Observing the inside of a kingfisher nest in real time via the web cam set up by the Nature Channel in Holland offers a unique glimpse into the world of kingfishers. Here is a selection of stills from inside the burrow.

 

Facts and figures

In addition to the live camera feed, the Nature Channel website in Holland site has a clubhouse where volunteers monitor the kingfisher nest ( and other nest cams) 24 hours a day. The volunteers keep a record of how many times the chicks are fed each day and by which of the adults (fortunately the infra-red camera makes it easy to spot the lighter coloured lower part of the beak on the female).

Now that the chicks have fledged I have some statistics to share:

7 eggs were laid, 6 hatched after 1 egg was accidentally knocked out of the nest by parent.

24 days + 20 hours after the first chick hatched at 11:57 April 12, the 6th chick left the nest at 08:11 May 7.

During the first week the parents spent a large amount of time brooding the chicks, the female more than the male, who took on a larger percentage of the feeding at this time.

By day ten the adults were spending much less time brooding the chicks and the feed rate climbed significantly, the female bringing in significantly more fish than the male at this time.

The female continued to brood overnight in the nest with the chicks for eleven nights after the eggs hatched.

From day 10 to day 15 the highest feed rates were recorded, with 3 days of over 100 fish being fed.

By the time the chicks left the nest both parents had fed the chicks a similar number of fish, the male 577 (36%) and the female 594 (37%) (assuming that the 422 (26%) of feeds the counters were unable to attribute were evenly spread). In total 1593 fish were fed to the chicks.

The daily feed graphs showed that feeding commenced each day within a few minutes of sunrise, and finished in the hour before sunset.

Throughout the feeding period, the individual parents fed at irregular intervals, sometimes making several visits to feed within a space of a few minutes, while at other times they were absent for an hour or more. Despite this erratic behaviour, the cumulative efforts of both parents tended to even out during the course of a day, with the graphs showing a steady supply of fish being presented every day.

This graph shows a distinctive bell curve as the feed rate built to a peak and then tailed off towards the date when the young fledged.

This clutch of youngsters all left within a period of around an hour, the first chick exiting shortly after sunrise 6:19 local time (5:19 BST). Records from previous clutches at this nest site have shown that each clutch has left at a similar time, shortly after sunrise.

overall-feeding

This graph depicts the breakdown of the 1593 fish fed. Blue shows the male count, red the female and green shows fish fed where it was not possible to identify the adults gender. During the final few days the size and voracity of the chicks, taking fish at the nest entrance, made it increasingly difficult to identify which parent was feeding.

 

The graphs below show the feed count and feed times for each day (click thumbnail images to view graphs).

 

All six chicks fledge in Holland

IJsvogelNest-075812IJsvogelNest-080256

Great news from the Nature Channel webcam site in Holland. On May 7th Between 5:20am uk time and 7:11am all six chicks left the nest. From the time the first chick hatched around 11:00am on April 12th, the chicks spent just short of 25 days in the nest being cared for by their parents.

On the facts and figures post page you can read more about some of the interesting statistics that were gathered by the volunteers on the site.

The guilty party?

badger

After a week monitoring the top of the kingfisher nest bank with a trail camera, shortly after midnight on Saturday the camera recorded this image of a large mammal right on top of the kingfisher burrow that had been dug out a few days earlier. It is a badger, and the other shots I have show it moving off along the bank shortly after this shot was taken. I had seen a trail in the grass that appeared to be evidence that something was regularly foraging along the bank,  so I thought that whatever had predated the nest would return sooner or later.

The kingfishers have already dug a new burrow and have begun mating. The new burrow is a few inches lower than the first, but with a badgers sense of smell I don’t think it would be safe, so I will be securing the surface with a large metal grid in the next few days.

 

 

Nest predation

nest-predation2

While everything has been going well with the Dutch kingfishers, on the Trent things have taken a disastrous turn. My local birds appeared to have been running about 2 weeks behind the dutch birds and I was expecting to see fish being taken into the nest this weekend. On arrival this morning at the nest site I sensed something was wrong, both birds were outside the nest flying upstream and downstream and perching below the nest borrow entrance. The female wouldn’t enter the burrow, and while the male entered, he came out immediately.

My usual viewpoint is on the opposite bank from the nest, so I had to drive and walk across a field to access the nest bank. As soon as I arrived I could see that the nest had been dug out from above, there were egg fragments on the ground, and a hole going straight down to the nest chamber, which was about 10 inches below the surface.

nest-predation1This has happened before at this site, in 2011 the same thing happened, so I had placed a metal grid above the nest chamber for each of the last two years. The metal grid I’d placed above the nest this year looks like it was just a bit too far back, and the unknown predator had dug down at the side of it. I’d assumed the nest would be about 3ft from the bank face, but unfortunately it was only about 18 inches deep, so it remained exposed, despite my efforts to protect it.

I had thought that it was the noise of chicks in the nest that might bring about this type of raid, however, this nest obviously still contained eggs, so I’m assuming that the predator was using scent. It’s probably fair to assume that the regurgitated pellets that the kingfishers use to line the floor of the nest chamber must have a fairly pungent scent.

The only positive I can take from this is that both adult birds appeared to be fine. If they dig a new burrow I will use a larger grid to try and ensure that the burrow is protected. It does concern me though, that if this has happened twice in three years at this location, how often is this happening at un-monitored kingfisher nests along the river.

A little miracle

Since discovering the Dutch Nature Channel website with its live webcam feed from their kingfisher nest bank, I have been checking in most days to watch the adults brood the eggs and slowly fill the floor with tiny bone fragments from the pellets they’ve been regurgitating.

Today, twenty days after the adults began brooding at around 11am (UK time) the first chick emerged. Here is a video of the event.

Having observed Kingfishers for over ten years, being able to witness this event is a real treat for me. It’s one of the best things about modern internet technology, to be able to share such a privileged view of the natural world.

All 6 eggs have now hatched (a seventh egg was accidentally knocked out of the nest about a week into brooding). The first 5 have all hatched within the space of two hours, with the final chick emerging about 4 hours later… quite remarkable!

 

Kingfishers – inside the nest burrow

nestcam2The kingfishers that I have been observing nest in a natural burrow in a fairly fragile bank, so it’s pretty much impossible to know what’s going on inside the nest chamber, however there are now a couple of places online where you can not only see clips of behaviour from inside a nest burrow, you can actually observe the entire process live!

The Nature Channel  – (Holland)

This camera site is based in Holland. Follow this link and select the BroedwandCam for an external view of the nest bank or the IJsvogelnest for an interior view of the nest. I’ve been watching the resident pair for a couple of hours and it’s fascinating. You may find it tricky getting the streams to work, but stick with it as it’s well worth a bit of tinkering, and  if you’re using a Windows PC and Microsoft Internet Explorer you should find it easier. As I type this, the male seems to be uncertain what to do with the eggs, he turns up to relieve the female who seems to be getting brooding underway, but he just pops into the nest and comes straight out again, leaving the female to do most of the brooding, he doesn’t seem to know what to make of the eggs, hopefully he’ll get the hang of it.

Winnall Moor

This live streaming camera was set up by the Hampshire Wildlife Trust at their artificial nest site at Winnall Moor.

Here is a link to the live stream, although I’m not sure if it is running this year, as it seems to be off air as I’m writing this. However, here is a link to their youtube site, where some fantastic clips are available, depicting key moments in the incubation cycle from last year.

I highly recommend having a look!

 

Getting frisky

With the new nest burrow completed and accepted by the female, mating now appears to be in full swing. This years birds seem to be spending less time in proximity to the nest bank, the female seemed to be having to follow the male up and down stream, and when the male finally fronted up with a fish to pass to her, she was somewhere upstream so he ate it. I was beginning to wonder just how committed this male was, when he finally appeared opposite the female with a huge fish. He passed the fish to the female and after allowing here a few seconds to swallow it mating occurred.

The river level is ideal at the moment for the kingfishers and so far there is no sign of any mink on the river, fingers crossed that it stays that way!

2014 season underway

The kingfishers returned to their usual nest site on or around the 1st of March. The female could well be last years bird, although I always find it tricky being 100% certain about an individual bird’s ID after several months. The nest burrow looks like it’s already nearing completion, with a large pile of fresh dirt sitting beneath it. Both birds were present this morning, and there were vocal exchanges between the pair as they build up to mating. No sign of any fish passing or overt mating behavior yet, which I think is still probably a few days off.

I’ve been combing the banks looking for mink tracks, but so far I’ve seen no sign of mink in the vicinity so far.

Shugborough’s Kingfishers

This is a 15 minute film that I have made using the footage that I gathered during the 2012 breeding season. It follows the adults from pair bonding through to the end of a dramatic and incident packed breeding season. The film is in HD and can be viewed full screen if required.

2013 Season roundup

The Kingfisher breeding season finished a couple of months ago, so I thought I should post a somewhat belated update on the fate of the kingfishers second brood. My final update left things somewhat hanging in mid air with the male carrying a serious eye injury at the time the first brood fledged.

The sad truth is that the male was to all intents and purposes doomed from the moment he picked up that injury and shortly after my last post I saw him for the last time and he had sustained a serious breakage to the upper part of his beak.

The timing seemed terrible as the pair had already mated for a second brood and the female was laying eggs in the new nest burrow she’d excavated virtually single-handedly.

Incredibly, what followed was an incredible feat of single parent persistence. The female incubated the brood on her own and then proceeded to feed the young in the nest. Unfortunately due to illness I was unable to get prceise timings to try and observe the fledging or judge how many young she managed to fledge, but I know that she was taking fish into the nest burrow at a time that must have been within a few days of fledging, so I’m fairly confident that the second brood would have fledged successfully.

It’s likely that the brood size would have been reduced as the female was feeding on her own, but either way, I think its pretty impressive that this female managed to handle incubation and feeding on her own over a period of 6-8 weeks.

It’s also worth mentioning that other than a couple of sightings early in the year, this stretch of the river has been free of mink this year.

Well, that’s it really for this year. There are kingfishers present on the river and as we edge towards winter they are all settling into establishing their solitary winter territories.

Hopefully next year we’ll manage to avoid flooding and predation for a second year and hopefully next years adults will prove to be less accident prone.

Britain’s Big Wildlife Revival Sunday 8th September

bbwr

Well, earlier in the year I had a visit from a film crew and Philippa Forrester.

I’m now allowed to tell you that it was taken during the filming for Britains Big Widllife Revival. The segment will be part of the rivers programme that will be shown on Sunday 8th September on BBC1 at 5:35pm.

gbwr-1

As you may well have guessed if you’re familiar with our photostream, the subject of the filming was Kingfishers, and although the weather was a bit iffy, it did at least stay dry and the Kingfishers performed for Phillippa on the day.

I may well be appearing on film on Sunday, so if you fancy a laugh, tune in and find out if I manage to get through an appearance on national television without making an idiot of myself!

btw: I’m the one in the red life jacket that’s not Phillippa Forrester 😉

Andy 🙂

First 2013 brood fledged!

I’m pleased to be able to report that the first brood has successfully fledged, or at least I think they have. The first youngster emerged on Friday morning at 7:30am but was not followed out by any others. The male continued to take fish into the burrow on Friday and then on Saturday morning a second young kingfisher emerged from the burrow. I don’t yet know if this is the extent of the brood or whether any more are going to emerge or are hiding somewhere and I’ve just not spotted them yet.

Either way it’s a relief to see the youngsters fledge after the problems with predation and flooding last year. On Saturday the female appeared to be doing all of the feeding, as well as keeping an eye on the young outside the nest. I’m hoping the male is OK as he really has been a bit of a hero, continuing to bring fish to the nest while carrying an eye injury for the last couple of weeks.

Fledgling about an hour after emerging

Fledgling about an hour after emerging

I have some footage of the youngsters which I’ll post as soon as I get chance to put another short film together.

Injured Kingfisher

While watching the kingfishers today everything initially appeared to be OK. Both birds were bringing fish into the nest, the male was still bringing very large fish in, although he now seems be getting the youngsters to take them, even if it means him flying in to the nest 3-4 times. The female was hanging around a bit more, begging for fish from the male as well as taking fish into the nest. This is typical behaviour when the female is getting ready to start another brood, and she was also making some initial attempts at starting a new burrow a couple of yards from the active burrow.

With less than 2 weeks to go before the first brood are due to fledge, everything seemed to be running smoothly, when the male flew over and landed on a branch in front of me to preen. Almost immediately I could see that something was not right with his right eye, and a closer view showed that it appears to be clouded over. the male is holding it half shut most of the time and it really doesn’t look good.

Life is seldom straightforward for kingfishers, they live a high risk lifestyle plummeting into water many times each day, so I suppose it’s inevitable that birds will occasionally pick up injuries. For a kingfisher the loss of sight in one eye has got to be fairly catastrophic as they rely entirely on their eyesight for hunting, which I just don’t think would work with monocular vision.

For the time being the good news is that the male is still bringing fish in regularly, so I assume he still has reasonable sight in the eye. With 10 days to go till the first brood fledges, I’m hopeful that the brood will be OK, but unless the injury heals, then I don’t hold out too much hope that this pair will be able to raise a second brood.

For now all I can do is keep an eye on things and hope for the best, kingfishers are tough little birds, so for the moment I’m hoping it’s something that will heal by itself.

Feeding routine

The female enters the burrow with a fish

The Kingfishers are now just over a week into the final stage of rearing their young. The male seems to be taking a bit of time to get used to the demands of the chicks and has been bringing back fish that are too large for them occasionally. He’ll take them into the burrow and then emerge a minute or so later still holding the fish which he’ll then eat himself. This seems fairly common in the kingfishers I’ve observed and one parent from most broods seems to exhibit this behavior occasionally.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the river stays reasonably placid and the predators keep away fro another couple of weeks!

Hatched!

On arrival at the nest site on Sunday I noticed something in the nest tunnel. It was a shell fragment, a sure sign that the eggs are now chicks! This event marks the beginning of a busy period for the parents as they’ll need to bring in excess of 1000 fish to the burrow over the next 3 weeks, each of which represents a separate fishing trip!

There has been no sign of mink in the vicinity for several weeks now, but I’ll continue to monitor the area and keep my fingers crossed that the weather and local predators leave the Kingfishers in peace this year!

Progression

The Kingfishers have completed the first clutch of eggs and as of Saturday 27th April they are incubating. The female will have laid 5-6 eggs over the previous week at a rate of about 1 a day. She’s been spending most of her time in proximity to the nest site where she has been making frequent visits to the nest burrow. Throughout this period the male has been bringing fish to pass to the female and they have been mating regularly to ensure each new egg is inseminated.

The transition to incubation sees both birds taking turns incubating the eggs. They can changeover at intervals of anything from 20 minutes to an hour and a half. The instinct to brood must be strong as at this early stage their is a visible urgency in the birds desire to return to the burrow. The female actually evicted the male after 45 minutes while I watched today.

There has been no further sign of the mink and I’m hoping that it stays that way. This is a critical and vulnerable time for the Kingfishers, as they become tied to the burrow for 6 weeks, where they are entirely dependent on the limited security that it provides.