Stork-billed Kingfisher’s fishy antics

on 20th February 2011

“After watching the fly-past of Singapore’s three new Jerdon’s Baza (Aviceda jerdoni) celebrities yesterday, I stopped off at a couple of other birding haunts before going home. One of these was the mangrove boardwalk jetty on the Sungei Tampines where I watched the comings and goings of the Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) colony there.

“I noticed two Stork-billed Kingfishers (Pelargopsis capensis) rush past me and fly into some trees near the concrete bridge a hundred metres up-stream from the jetty, so when I was leaving I went to the bridge to see if I could find them.

“As I approached, I could see one of the kingfishers in a riverside tree exhibiting rather odd behaviour. It was leaning forward on the branch on which it was perched, with its bill wide open, and looking every bit as if it was extremely annoyed at something, but making no noise. This went on for perhaps a minute, by which time I had managed to set my camera and start taking photos (above left). A few seconds later, to my astonishment, a largish (relative to the size of the bird) fish appeared in its bill as if by magic (above right).

“Clearly the kingfisher had shortly beforehand swallowed the fish whole, and probably alive, and either it was stuck deep in it’s throat (it is nowhere to be seen in the earlier image), or the fish moving around in its stomach bothered the bird, and the behaviour I had seen was the bird gagging silently in an effort to regurgitate the fish. Amazingly, when it was finally able to cough up the fish, the kingfisher was able to keep it in its bill and not drop it. The images above and below (left) show it over the next 60 seconds tossing the fish in the air, banging it hard on the branch, and repositioning it in its mouth.

“Then, just as suddenly, the fish was gone again, and the kingfisher stretched its neck as it slid down its gullet (above right). After which all seemed back to normal, and the bird sat relaxed on the branch watching the river flow past below.”

[Note: according to the time recorded in the images, the whole sequence took exactly 90 seconds]

Howard Banwell
10th February 2011

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

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