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Sacred Kingfisher – Turquoise Forest Jewel

Bird Photography with marysejansenart

A kingfisher which rarely eats fish

Sacred Kingfisher in the Forest by Maryse Jansen
Sacred Kingfisher in the Forest

Sacred Kingfisher migration

The Kingfishers are back! As we’re moving into spring, I suddenly notice a lot of activity in the forest from the Sacred Kingfishers! They actively fly around, cackling and chasing each other which really gives away their presence! It’s breeding season. Normally these birds are solitary and don’t make a lot of noise, but this is the time of year they are looking for a partner to build a nest with. A great opportunity to spot and photograph them!

Sacred Kingfishers are common throughout a large range of forested areas in Australia, including eucalyptus, mangrove and paperbark forests. You won’t see these birds in rainforests. During winter, they spend their time in the northern parts of their range and in spring they return south for their breeding season.

A Cackle and a Flash of Turquoise Blue

I’m walking through a eucalyptus forest and a cackle and a flash of turquoise blue attract my attention. My eyes follow the colourful streak to a branch where the kingfisher lands. It calls out to another bird, I can hear it answer. I stay put. The bird moves a couple of times from tree to tree, but it doesn’t go far. The other bird is getting closer. Suddenly it swoops down in the direction of an arboreal termite nest and lands on a branch beside it. The other bird joins it.

Sacred Kingfisher Nesting Pair by Maryse Jansen
Sacred Kingfisher Nesting Pair

The male Sacred Kingfisher is the brighter looking one. Both birds look similar with a beautiful turquoise back, tail and wings. The female is often a bit greener. They have a white collar and underparts with buff to rusty-brown edges which are more prominent in the male. They also have a small buff spot just in front of the eye. A thick black stripe extends from their large bill, through the eye to the back of their head, which is also a bit more prominent in the male.

Nesting in a termite nest

I notice the termite nest has a round hole in it, that is the doing of the kingfishers! They like to build their nest in a termite nest or a hollow branch. The pair works together on excavating the nest. They usually lay two clutches per season. Both parents incubate the 3-6 eggs for 2.5 weeks, but the female does most of this work. For the next 4-5 weeks both birds look after the chicks and feed them.

Sacred Kingfisher Entering Nest by Maryse Jansen
Sacred Kingfisher Entering Nest

I wait and after a while one of the birds enters the nest with a quick swoop. They take turns and go back and forth a couple of times and then suddenly, they both fly off again. I wait a bit longer but they don’t seem to be returning anytime soon, so I continue my walk. It was a wonderful encounter and I was able to shoot some great photos! That beautiful blue really stands out in the environment!

I hope for them that this pair will be more fortunate then the pair that lost their offspring to another animal that likes to lay their eggs in termite nests: the Lace Monitor! Read all about that story here!

Sacred Kingfishers rarely eat fish!

Interestingly these kingfishers rarely eat fish. They catch most of their prey on land. I spot a Sacred Kingfisher perched on an exposed branch. From here it has a good lookout over its surroundings as it’s scanning for prey. It is fortunate for me as a photographer, because I can get a really good shot without the bird being obscured by leaves and branches which so often happens when photographing birds. And I can create a good depth of field where the bird stands out beautifully between the blurred vegetation that surrounds it. It has a very artistic effect as you can see in the featured image.

So what does the Sacred Kingfisher eat? Their favourite prey is insects. They will also have a go at a variety of other small animals, including reptiles and crustaceans. They swoop down from their perch and catch their prey with their beak, often without the need to land. Once caught, they take their meal back up to their perch where they smash it against the branch to kill it and then they eat it.

Australian Kingfishers

Australia has a total of 15 species of kingfishers which can be separated in three groups. There are the Paradise – and River Kingfishers (7 species) and the Kookaburras (3 species, including the Laughing Kookaburra). The Sacred Kingfisher belongs to a group of 5 species of Forest Kingfishers and can be difficult to tell apart from the Collared Kingfisher (also known as Mangrove Kingfisher) and the Forest Kingfisher.

The Collared Kingfisher is a larger bird with a heavier bill and lacks the buff to rusty-brown colourings that we spotted on the Sacred Kingfisher. The Forest Kingfisher is of a similar size but it is a darker blue, has obvious white spots in front of its eyes and a white patch on the wings which can be seen in flight.

If you are interested in purchasing the featured image ‘Sacred Kingfisher in the Forest’ or would like to see what it looks like on the various products, please head to my shop. Check out other images of the Sacred Kingfisher and some other kingfishers in my Australian Kingfishers Gallery.

In the latest episode of ‘Come for a walk in the Australian Bush you can meet a Sacred Kingfisher during an interesting walk through 5 different ecosystems! This particular bird is hanging out in the Dry Eucalyptus Forest and you will also find another type of kingfisher there!

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