T.E.R:R.A.I.N - Taranaki Educational Resource: Research, Analysis and Information Network


Kingfisher (Todiramphus sanctus)

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Coraciiformes
Family: Halcyonidae
Genus: Todiramphus
Species: T. sanctus
Binomial name: Todiramphus sanctus
Synonyms: Halcyon sancta
Common names: New Zealand Kingfisher, Sacred Kingfisher and Kotare

The Kingfisher (Todiramphus sanctus) is a tree kingfisher found in the mangroves, forests, and river valleys of New Zealand. It is also found in Australia, Fiji, Indonesia, New Caledonia Norfolk Island, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and the Wallis and Futuna Islands. It has also occurred as a vagrant in Christmas Island (in the Indian Ocean), Malaysia, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and Nauru.

In New Zealand, T. sanctus vagans shows altitudinal migration, with post-breeding movement from higher altitudes to the coast and also from forest to coast and open lands. They are native birds which grow up to 24 cm. 65 gms with feathers of green fading to blue on the head and upperparts, buff under parts and collar. The bird is all head and shoulders with a very broad bill, made for digging into clay banks to make nesting holes. They will also nest in holes in trees. The dagger-like bill is used in the breeding season to excavate a tunnel in an earth bank by repeatedly flying at the bank at full speed, neck outstretched and uttering a peculiar whirring call. Once the tunnel has started and the hole is big enough to perch in, the kingfisher then continues to excavate the tunnel by pecking and scooping out the loosen earth. The tunnel is sloped slightly upwards and ends with a chamber for the nest.

Fish form only a small part of their diet but whitebait are taken in the lower reaches of the rivers in spring and goldfish in ponds are not safe. They also feed on insects, small crustaceans, small rodents, reptiles, earthworms, cicadas, weta, stick insects, dragonflies, chafer beetles, other beetles, spiders, and small birds (especially silvereyes)..

According to W. R. B Oliver of New Zealand Birds, 1955. He says: "it is a fearless bird and readily attacks mammals and birds of its own size and larger.”Starlings are driven away, red billed gulls put to flight, and a Tui killed, cats and dogs blinded in one eye and even weasels attacked. Every kind of small animal is attacked, killed and eaten by the kingfisher. The mouse is a first favourite and the bird's sharp eyes and quick actions are usually effective when one comes into view. Before being swallowed the victim is pulped and its bones broken by battering on the kingfisher's perch. Small birds such as Tauhou, the white eye, are eaten and lizards where they are plentiful. Larger insects also form part of the diet. "

Photo below shows a Kingfisher on a branch above the breeding tunnel in a clay bank. The blue colour below the borrow is an other bird leaving the nest. (Photo taken early Oct)



 

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