Kingfisher

Passing the brilliant rollers of the Old World, and the motmots and little gemlike todies of the New, we come to the extensive tribe of kingfishers, of which our blue and white example is a very modest specimen—but the only one we have, while 150 other species are counted in the rest of the world, most of them in the Austro-Malayan region and in Africa. They vary immensely in size, colors, food and habits. A large section are not "fishers" at all, but dwell in wooded places, and subsist on insects caught on the wing, and on reptiles, mice, etc., like birds of prey. Few groups are so diversified and entertaining as this one. Related to them are the bee-eaters, hoopoes, hornbills and others that bring us to the owls, a suborder of which contains the great nightjar family to which our whippoorwills and nighthawks belong, with the swifts and humming birds as near relations. Then come the woodpeckers, much alike all over the world (but absent from Australia), followed by the gorgeous trogons of Mexico and some other tropical beauties.

The Kingfishers' Home

V ERY pretty birds were Mr. and Mrs. Kingfisher, with dark, glossy, green wings, spotted with light blue. Their tails were also light blue, and there was a patch of yellow near their heads. The little Kingfishers were quite as pretty as their parents, and Mr. and Mrs. Kingfisher were exceedingly proud of them.

“Only they eat a great deal,” said Mr. Kingfisher; “I am getting very tired.”

For Mr. Kingfisher had been flying backward and forward all day, and it was surprising to see the quantity of fish he caught for his family.

When he built his nest he took care that it should be near a stream, and he found one close by a high cliff that Mrs. Kingfisher said would be just the place; so they scooped out a deep hole, and there the eggs were laid, and in due time six little Kingfishers burst out of the shells.

Kingfisher. Common King, Or Kingfisher. Glas Y Dorian of the Ancient British. Figure 15. [center of third row]

Varioud bird eggs

The Kingfishers belong to the order called Jaculatrices, or Darters, and to the family Alcedinæ; so they are Alcedine  birds. These terms are not very easy of explanation. Alcedo hispida  is the name of the Common Kingfisher. The second term may mean either rough, or hairy, or wet, all of which are quite applicable to this bird, which must be familiar to many of our readers; for although by no means common in any part of Britain, and very rare in the north, it is yet to be found, all the year through, in most parts of the country where there are streams of water, and river banks, and moist meadows suited to its habits, which are solitary. It generally nestles in holes in the declivities near to its favourite hunting ground—the clear stream, fringed with reeds and bulrushes, which glides away over pebbles that shine like gold and silver, and weeds as green as emeralds, or red as rubies, amid which dart the minnows and other small fish, on which, together with aquatic insects, the gorgeously-painted fisher feeds. You may see him in some quiet out-of-the-way place, beneath the shade of the grey alders, sitting motionless as a statue upon a branch of an old thorn, that projects over the stream. It may be that a ray of sunshine finds its way between the shivering branches, and out flash the glorious tints of its plumage—red, and green, and blue, and all changeable colours. Truly he is the monarch of fishing birds, and rightly named King fisher! Not handsome in form, certainly not elegant, nor well proportioned—with his short squat body and stump of a tail, thick neck, large head, and immense bill, little feet, that seem meant for a Sparrow, and eyes which, although bright and sharp enough, are much too small for the head. But he is a swift flier, for all that he looks so awkward; and see! quick as light he darts down upon that heedless fish that has come too near the surface, swallows it at a gulp, and is ready for another dart before you can look round you.

The eggs of our Common Kingfisher are what is termed broadly ovate in shape, that is, they are nearly round, not tapering out much, as some eggs do; they are simply white and semi (that is half) transparent. The number is generally six or seven. They are laid some time in May, in a hole, often that of the water-rat, sometimes on the bare earth, but more frequently on a layer of small fish bones; now and then on a little dried grass. The note of the bird is sharp, shrill, and piping, like that of the Sandpipers, but is not often uttered.