BIRD WATCH: Kingfishers carry their dogfights into yard’s territory

THE YARD HAD gone totally quiet. There wasn’t a breath of air.

The 2017 eclipse was underway, and then a familiar sound was heard. A belted kingfisher made one pass over the yard, his call rattling across the stillness.

It was a reminder of what takes place among kingfisher families at this time of the year. I looked over past columns and found one written in late summer 2001.

During this 50th year of the column’s existence, this one looked like a good one to repeat:

One of this month’s familiar sights and sounds is the battling kingfishers. They’re chasing each other throughout the neighborhood while giving out their rattling challenge cry.

When you talk about solitary birds, kingfishers illustrate what this means. They can’t stand each other. The only time you will see two kingfishers together and coexisting peacefully is during the mating season. At other times of the year, they won’t tolerate another kingfisher in their territory.

Mated pairs go their separate ways when August rolls around, and the young birds must look for their own territories. Parents want the kids out of their sight and the siblings want nothing to do with one another. It’s all about survival from the kingfisher’s point of view.

Kingfishers typically demand about a quarter-mile of beach to fish along. Trespassers aren’t welcome even if they are your parent, mate or sibling.

The longest confrontation I have ever witnessed took place during this last spell of hot weather. I was watering the garden, and as I prefer to use a watering wand instead of relying on overhead sprinkling, I am out in the gardens for some time.

I had just started to hose down the beans and squash when the two birds flashed overhead.

Like World War II fighters, they rocketed back and forth through the tall fir trees and out over the bay, all the while keeping 10 to 12 feet between them.

Throughout this chase, they yelled at each other in typical kingfisher language. This is a loud, rattling call. It was fascinating to see them fly at topknot speeds and keep up a constant verbal barrage at one another.

I was positive they would soon run out of energy and wind and that the whole episode would just fade away for a while.

Not so. This was a battle between two very aggressive, determined birds. Each wanted the territory and both wanted the other bird out of it.

The minutes stretched on and so did my watering. The pumpkins, tomatoes and assorted flowers must have thought they were really special. My wand waved back and forth over them while I stood staring at the spitfire battle etched against the evening sky.

Northwest summer skies warrant our taking time to enjoy them for their own beauty, but this time, the blue and golden scene was a perfect backdrop for the dueling kingfishers.

I wasn’t the only one impressed with the length of the battle. The purple martin colony isn’t very far away, and a couple of the birds took offense at such behavior.

The voices of angry purple martins joined the kingfisher duet. It was a great evening to be out in the yard: Kingfishers tilting at each other just over your head; purple martins calling to one another; and a summer sky that can’t be topped anywhere else in the world.

Add to that the companionship of happy, water-drunk plants and what else is there?

The kingfishers and their wrangling will go on for the next few weeks. Then it will quiet down for another year.

Somehow the territories will be split up, reapportioned or whatever else the birds do.

I just hope everyone gets enough beach so they can fish to their heart’s content this fall and winter. It’s one of nature’s mysteries, and I don’t know how the birds settle all of this.

I’m just glad they do and hope that I will always have kingfishers dogfighting in the yard every summer.


Joan Carson’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at P.O. Box 532, Poulsbo, WA 98370, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email: [email protected]

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