Feeding young

feedintonest

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.

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).

 

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.

 

 

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!

 

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.

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.

Mating underway!

Everything seems to be progressing well at the moment. The burrow is now complete, confirmed by the onset of mating. The female won’t allow the male to mate with her until she is happy with the burrow, as once mating commences she will begin egg production. Each egg takes about a day to produce and so the burrow must be ready to go as soon as the mating starts.

The female is spending most of her time now around the nest site, waiting for the male to bring her fish. This arrangement serves to help the female conserve all of her energy for the arduous process of egg production (one a day for about 6 days) while at the same time re-enforcing their pair bond.

Week Two -still digging

After a week of sporadic digging, the kingfishers should now be getting close to completing the nest burrow. Once the female has accepted the burrow, the pair will commence mating and the female will lay 5-6 eggs at a rate of approximately one a day until the clutch is complete. Only then will the pair begin incubating the clutch, so the chicks can all hatch around the same time.

Nest site abandoned

After struggling with a succession of set backs while attempting to get started with their second brood, the kingfisher pair that I’ve spent so many hours observing in and around this nest site have finally called it a day at this location.

The heavy flooding in the middle of July caused the River Trent to rise to it’s highest point this year and the entire nest bank occupied by the kingfishers was inundated. The adults had just begun clearing one of the old nest burrows after the mink predation, when the floods arrived, so at least they did not suffer the loss of a clutch of eggs or young.

I’ve been checking the river for the last two weeks, but so far the kingfishers are proving to be elusive and I’ve no idea where they are at the moment, although I’m assuming that they will have attempted to start another nest somewhere within their territory. The task of tracking them down is complicated by the fact that there are several private fishing pools close to the river, to which I have no access, and with the river levels having remained high for more than a week after the peak of the flooding, I think there’s a good chance that they may be at one of these sites, where they would be immune to the effects of the unpredictable flood water.

I’ll continue to keep an eye open to see if I can figure out where they are. I figure that if they have excavated a new burrow, they might just about be at the point where egg laying has been completed and incubation will be getting underway.

 

Nest bank underwater

It’s been raining on and off for nearly two weeks now. The bank that the kingfishers are nesting in was completely inundated by the end of the first week of July and a week later, the water level is still very high.

The kingfishers had just about started mating again in the few days before the rain returned, so at least they won’t have lost any young. However, it does mean that once again their attempt at starting a second brood has been bought to an abrupt halt.

Photo by Helen

With the river being so high, the kingfishers have been regularly seen on the canal and a local ornamental lake over the last few days. Although I saw a cormorant fishing on the river, I can’t imagine that the kingfishers would be able to catch much with the river in its current state.

The image on the right shows a stile I often use which has now become a jetty as the River Trent inundates the adjoining field. Fortunately the farmer was quick off the mark and removed the cattle and sheep from the field in plenty of time.

Once the river levels begin to drop, it remains to be seen whether the kingfishers will return to the bank to try again. With the river having been high for over a week, I wonder whether the kingfishers instinct to start another brood while they have time will lead them to seek an alternate site away from the river.

Trying again

After visiting the nest site each morning and evening to check the mink trap this week, I was becoming increasingly concerned at the lack of any sign of the kingfishers, so on Saturday I decided to set up my hide and do a long stint at the nest site, to see if there was any sign of the kingfishers returning.

After half an hour the male Kingfisher turned up (he seems to have lost the tip of his upper beak during the week), and then after he’d been sitting opposite the nest for about 10 minutes, I was amazed to see two more kingfishers arrive. The male immediately flew across to them and a few seconds of aerial chasing ensued, until eventually all three birds settled in adjacent trees. I was able to observe the new arrivals with my binoculars and it became clear immediately that these were juveniles, presumably from the first brood that fledged 6 weeks ago.

The juveniles flew backwards and forwards across the river for the following hour, hovering near the burrows and repeatedly entering all of them. The adult male seemed to be content to observe and didn’t appear to display any aggression towards them. Just as I was getting my head round this development, a fourth kingfisher arrived and I was greatly relieved to recognise the adult female, who had been incubating when the mink raided the nest.

Half an hour later the juveniles had left, and the adults started to pay more and more attention to the burrow where the first brood had been raised. It soon became clear that they were concentrating their efforts on this burrow, taking it in turns to enter for several minutes at a time, while their partner watched on from the branch opposite.

I returned on Sunday and the adult pair were still present, continuing to work on the burrow, with signs of renewed mating behaviour taking place. I observed a couple of fish passes by the male and a couple of tentative attempts to mate. I think that once the female is happy that the burrow is ready she will allow the male to mate and egg laying will then start again and continue for the next week or two.

I’ve seen no sign of the mink since the second day I had the trap out, when I caught a second juvenile. I assume the adult female has moved the remaining kits to another location, but this area of bank is still part of her territory and I’m concerned that the new kingfisher nest is not going to be safe from her as things stand.

Digging, feeding, breeding & brooding


In the last week a lot has happened at the kingfisher nest. By the 29th May work on the burrow had been completed, the resumption of mating being a sure sign that the burrow was now ready for a second batch of eggs. During the following week the kingfishers continued mating, the ongoing courtship display of calling, fish passing and mating all happening around the nest site. The female intermittently visited the nest burrow throughout this period, probably laying an egg each day.

Once the female has completed egg laying, the kingfishers behaviour changes markedly as they begin incubating the clutch, and when I arrive on Monday 4th June I sense straight away that things have changed. After seeing and hearing nothing for 45 minutes, the male bird arrives opposite the nest, calling loudly as he arrives. The female hears the male and exits the nest burrow almost instantly, she flies across the river and they perch a couple of feet apart on a branch calling to each other, the female affecting an extravagant upright posture. A few seconds later, she takes off and heads upriver, the male sits on the branch for a few seconds more and then flies across the river straight into the nest burrow, incubation is now underway.

All being well, the adults will now settle into a routine for the next 3 weeks, changing over at the nest about once every one and a half to two hours. When the adults are not brooding they leave the nest site after a brief hand over, and don’t usually re-appear until they’re ready for their next shift. I’m not sure how far they go, but I’ve seen them over a quarter of a mile down stream still flying away from the nest during this phase. I wonder whether they are taking the opportunity afforded by these extended breaks to re-acquaint themselves with their territory, perhaps ensuring that no other kingfishers have encroached while they’ve been busy around the nest site.

I’ve seen no further sign of the first brood fledglings since a fly past the nest site on the 25th May. The mortality rate in young kingfishers can be very high during their first few weeks of life, but hopefully the brief heatwave during the latter part of May will have given them ideal conditions for starting out, and judging by the amount of small fish in the river, they shouldn’t have had too much trouble finding something to eat.

A new burrow


It’s just over a week since the first brood fledged and the adults are engaged in excavating a new burrow. It’s come as a bit of a surprise to me, as the female seemed to have settled on an existing burrow about 6ft to the right of the one that the first brood were raised in. She’d been spending a lot of time in this burrow, and I’d seen the adults mating again over a week before the first brood fledged (I was beginning to wonder if they were getting a new brood underway before the first one had even fledged). I have no idea why they’ve decided to dig a new burrow after seeming to commit to the old one, but it looks like the new burrow is going to be home to the second brood and I’m waiting now to see when they settle back into the behaviour patterns typical during egg incubation.

While the burrow is under construction, both birds spend the majority of their time at the nest site. The bird that is not digging stands vigil nearby and emits occasional calls which are quite subdued in comparison to their normal call, this presumably lets the bird in the burrow know that they are present and that all is well outside. When the bird in the burrow emerges, the other often flies straight into the burrow, seemingly keen to see what the other has accomplished and do some work themselves.

Another thing I’ve noticed during this phase is that the male seems very keen to pass fish to the female, but for the time being she’s clearly not interested. I assume the fish passing, and any subsequent mating is on hold until she is happy with the new burrow.

During the time I’ve spent observing the digging of the new burrow, I’ve also seen kingfishers flying past the nest site at speed, occasionally prompting a response from the resident adults. I can only assume that this is one or more of the fledglings; I wonder how long their presence in the adults territory will be tolerated.

Last to leave

The first brood of kingfishers has fledged and less than a day later only one fledgling remains near the nest site. I saw 3 youngsters Thursday evening, but by the following morning there was just one left at the nest site. I’ve spent most of Saturday and Sunday walking the river, but I’ve only spotted the adult birds, so I’ve no idea where the youngsters have gone or how they’re faring now they’re out of the nest burrow. On a positive note, from the little I saw of them, they seemed full of life and quite capable of flying up and down the river at pretty much the same pace as the adults. I’d love to know how they get on, but I suspect I’m going to be disappointed, though I’ll continue to watch the river in the hope that I might stumble upon them over the next few weeks.

Back at the nest site, the female is spending a lot of time in the new burrow. When she’s not in the burrow she seems to be staying close to the nest, sitting in the tree opposite the nest preening or flying 20-30 yards upstream to another perch she seems to have taken to. The male returns every hour or so and regularly passes fish to her and attempts to mate. After the regular feeding of the young that’s been going on for the last few weeks the nest site suddenly feels very quiet. I’m actually a bit taken a back by the speed with which the youngsters have left the area. I’d kind of hoped they’d stick around for a few days before the adults booted them out of the territory, but as things stand it appears that they’ve left!

Kingfisher mating behaviour

With the nest burrow and territory now established the pair are well into the breeding phase. The female is now staying in close proximity to the burrow most of the time, while the male is returning to the female at 10 to 15 minute minute intervals, bringing fish to feed to her. This behavior seems well adapted to ensuring that all of the females energy can go into egg production. While the female makes occasional visits to the burrow, sometimes spending several minutes in the burrow, the bulk of her time is spent roosting in bank side trees waiting for the male. When the male returns to the burrow he can be heard calling from some way off, this prompts the female to call and the male then quickly homes in on the female and presents her with a fish. On two occasions during the 3 hour session that I observed them, this behaviour was followed by an attempted mating, where the male hovers and perches on top of the female.