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.

How to identify a juvenile Kingfisher?

Juvenile Kingfisher approximately 6 weeks old

I’ve found the easiest way to identify a juvenile is to look at it’s feet. From the point that it fledges until it is several months old the juveniles feet are much duller than the bright orange colour of the adult birds. The younger the bird the more mottled the appearance of the feet.

Another give away to look out for is the pale tip on the beak of a young bird. It’s been suggested that the pale tip is adapted for life in the burrow so the adult can recognise where the chicks beaks are situated in the poor light inside the burrow. Once they emerge, the pale tip starts to fade, but it’s still clearly visible in birds a couple of months old.

The final things to consider are more general. Youngsters often hang around together and are less shy of people than adults, so if you see 2 or 3 birds in reasonably close proximity to each other, they will probably be juveniles. Their plumage is just a bit duller overall than the adult birds and they appear a bit more compact in appearance than the adults.

My top tip for identifying a juvenile though is to look at the feet!

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.

Aftermath

It’s a week on from the destruction of the kingfisher and sand martin nests by the mink. During this time I’ve had several discussions with the landowner and the local Wildlife Trust which has resulted in permission being granted to trap the mink. On Friday evening I placed a trap in an area I’d seen the female mink moving through regularly, and on Saturday morning I returned to be met with shrill distress calls emanating from the area around the trap, as I approached the trap there was frantic calling from the undergrowth and I saw three juvenile mink kits being led away from the vicinity of the trap by the adult. Part of the cloth cover I’d put over the trap to create the impression of a cave was chewed and through the hole I could see a juvenile mink inside the trap.

Inline with GWCT guidelines on mink trapping, the juvenile was quickly dispatched using an air pistol and I’m now left with the knowledge that the female has at least 3 healthy & mobile juveniles in tow that she will be foraging for. Intervening in an ecosystem is seldom straightforward, and unfortunately there are no easy solutions to problems like the mink.

As for the kingfishers, on my last two visits to the site I’ve only seen the adult male on the branch opposite the nest site, where he has perched for a few seconds before resuming his flight upstream. At this point it looks like the kingfishers have abandoned the nest bank, presumably to try and find a safer site elsewhere, there is also no sign of the Sand Martins.