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March 31, 2005

Birds Of Iraq: The Pied Kingfisher


Pied kingfisher - Ceryle rudis

LTC Bob has had great luck when it comes to the Kingfishers of Iraq, capturing both of the species one would would expect to see in the area numerous times. We've already covered the White Breasted Kingfisher, though I may replace the original photos at that post soon, given the quality of some of LTC Bob's more recent shots. The other species of kingfisher in Iraq is the Pied Kingfisher, one of the most common species on kingfisher in the world, and one noted for its plumage, as when it comes to kingfishers, vivid colors are the norm rather than the exception.

"In several respects the Pied Kingfisher has scored firsts in the evolution of fishing within the Alcedinidae/Cerylidae" Kingfishers, Bee-Eaters & Rollers tells us.

Well, tells me, I suppose, as it's not that likely that many of you happen to have a copy open at the moment. You'll have to take my word for it.

"Like other kingfishers, it fishes by diving from a perch, but also regularly hunts by hovering, plunging down to catch its prey like a miniature gannet.
...
Hover-hunting releases it from the reliance of all other kingfishers on shore-line with their perching places. Pied Kingfishers can and do hunt out to sea and far offshore in Africa's great lakes. Another first is its ability to handle prey away from a perch: this kingfisher has been know to catch tow fish in one dive, to eat a crab at sea, and often to swallow fish less than 2 cm long on the wing, without first having to return to firm perching-place to beat them."

Of course, there's no rule against hunting from a convenient perch, either. As you might have suspected, the picture above shows the idiosyncratic hover. Others have captured it as well, though it's a tough enough shot that most end up looking like this rather than like the ones above. Though other kingfishers do exhibit the hovering behavior, the Pied is thought to be the largest one able to sucessfully employ the technique while hunting. Considering that the much smaller hummingbirds are thought to burn upwards of 200 calories per gram of body weight per hour during hovering, one would think that the Pied Kingfisher--averaging 80 grams in weight as an adult--must be achingly close to the size limit for that behavior, but in fact several varieties of Kestrel--typically twice the size of our Pied--also employ the hovering technique while hunting, though they have to face into the wind to do so.

Previously: The Black-Winged Stilt

Next: The Rook

Also, be sure to check out LTC Bob's and Major Ed's Birds of Iraq photopages, updated with pictures that for space reasons I can't display here.

Posted by Bigwig at March 31, 2005 10:51 AM | TrackBack
Postscript:
First time visitor to House Hraka? Wondering if everything we produce could possibly be as brilliant/stupid/evil/pedantic/insipid/inspired as the post you just read? Check out the Hraka Essentials, the (mostly) reader-selected guide to Hraka's best posts, and decide for yourself.
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