Featured Sanctuary Bird: Kingfisher

Photo by Kelly Colgan Azar

Photo by Kelly Colgan Azar

A boisterous river bird drops from a tree and plunks headlong into the water. Seconds later it emerges, crested head flinging water back into the river channel. A fisher, this bird flutters above the stream, lets out a coarse and rattling call, then casts back into the water, returning with the fresh catch of the day.

A Belted Kingfisher on a southern Wisconsin stream can only be watched with delight. As the bird sits perched on a giant silver maple it tips its oversized head and calculates angles and velocities. Dropping at a near-vertical descent, the bird adjusts its wings, buffering the impacts of water. The kingfisher seems always to be fishing even though its prey is often one third of the kingfisher's body weight.

Clean streams, rivers, and lakes are strong indicators of the health of a region. Southern Wisconsin's reflection in this stream is barely visible due to murky waters from carp, dams, and runoff. Some outstanding examples remain such as the Mukwonago River and the Lower Wisconsin Riverway. The kingfisher needs that clean reflection for hunting. Rivers and their valleys are important corridors for huge amounts of wildlife, and Belted Kingfishers carve out their territory directly along these river pathways.

The birds nest in burrows on the sides of  riverbanks, typically dug a few feet through the mud. Looking from the river, burrows face up in order to prevent water from entering the nesting site. A clutch of 5-7 eggs is reared between June and July.

You can find Kingfishers at Faville Grove Sanctuary along the Crawfish River and at Faville Marsh. If you are canoeing or kayaking along the Crawfish, the protected lowland areas of river frontage are great spots to find kingfishers. Faville Marsh contains a wetland edge known as a “moat.” This moat is connected to a deeper kettle pond which must be the source for the minnows that the kingfishers and prey upon.

By Drew Harry, Faville Grove Land Steward