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.

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).

 

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!

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!

23 days – blinded by the light

It’s now 23 days since the feeding of the young started. I’ve had to visit the site in the afternoon after work, & the sun’s right in my eyes from my vantage point opposite the nest. The river is alive with swallows, zipping up and down catching insects. All this is making it difficult for me to see whether the kingfishers are still taking fish to the burrow; the nest is in shadow so I have to squint to try and make out the burrow entrance. After twenty minutes or so both birds fly in and land a few yards in front of me, the male has a fish and commences to edge down the branch towards the female. He passes the fish to her and flies off downstream. I’m now watching to see if she is going to take it across to the burrow, but no, after holding it in her beak for a few seconds she swallows it. The female’s focus now seems to be on looking after herself, and I think this maybe because she’s now entered the gestation period prior to egg laying for the second brood.

I’m beginning to wonder if it’s possible that the young have fledged a bit early and have moved up or downstream when I hear the male calling as he arrives back at the nest site, he has a large bullhead which he adjusts slightly before flying over to the nest with it. So they’re still in the nest, and I’m wondering if they’re going to fledge bang on the optimum 25 days, which will be Wednesday.

Fish pass & feed

Although the chicks are still a week or so from fledging, the adults behaviour seems to be shifting back towards mating. I’ve seen several fish passes, where the male brings a fish and presents it to the female, a behaviour which is a typical pre-cursor to mating. When this was happening before the first brood, the female would immediately eat the fish and hang around waiting for the male to bring her another, whereas now, with hungry mouths still to feed, the fish is taken straight over to the nest burrow.

I know that once the young emerge they will only be tolerated for a few days before being driven out of the parents territory. The fact that breeding behaviour is already underway suggests that this pair are not going to waste any time getting a second brood underway.

If you’re curious about what happened after the fish passing, keep checking the blog, as I have a rather special film clip coming soon.

Fish of the day

Today marks another important landmark within the breeding cycle. For the first time I’ve seen the female taking a fish into the nest burrow and this means that there are now live young in the nest.

The activity was far less predictable than it has been during the brooding phase. The adults are still leaving the nest site to hunt, but are returning sooner; at one point both adults were inside the burrow for the best part of a minute. It must take them a bit of getting used to, having live young, where the day before they just had 5 or 6 eggs to worry about. With the high attrition rate and short lifespans of most kingfishers, this may well be the first time this pair have bred, so everything depends on their instincts kicking in and triggering the right behaviour patterns at each stage of the breeding cycle. As an onlooker I’m continually fretting about whether the female has been away for too long, or whether the male is staying put long enough, but at the end of the day it’s out of my hands, so all I can do is sit quietly in my hide and watch as events unfold.

The female enters the burrow with a fish

If all goes well, the current phase, during which the adults will have to continually feed the young in the nest burrow, should last about 25 days (although it can be up to 35 days if food supplies are poor).

So the target for fledging is mid May, however, in my experience this next phase is the most precarious. Now the young are in the nest, their calling for food may attract the attention of predators more readily, and it was during this phase last year that the burrow 3ft to the right of this years nest was dug out by mink. I’ve placed a protective mesh above the nest burrow this year, but I’m still concerned.

For now, all seems to be going smoothly. I’ll be keeping a close eye on the burrow over the next few weeks and should also hopefully be able to post some more photos and video footage.