Stork-billed Kingfisher casting pellet as it was about to swallow a fish

The video clip below by Jeremiah Loei shows a Stork-billed Kingfisher (Pelargopsis capensis) manipulating a recently caught fish clamped between its mandibles. As it was bashing the fish against the branch, it showed signs of casting a pellet. The above image is a video grab at 24 seconds showing a brown pellet coming out of its mouth. This pellet is the undigested parts of the food it probably ate about half to an hour earlier.

After casting the pellet, the kingfisher continued bashing the fish for some time before finally swallowing the fish. Note that the fish is swallowed headfirst (below, left to right). Otherwise the spines can damage the bird’s throat causing death even.

Had the kingfisher ate a fish earlier, the pellet would be white, consisting of fish bones, scales, etc. A black pellet was regurgitated by another kingfisher after it was observed eating a snail with blackish shell earlier LINK. Unfortunately it is not known what this Stork-billed Kingfisher ate earlier.

It is well known that raptors and owls regularly cast pellets. But what is not well known is that many non-raptorial birds similarly cast pellets LINK. Besides kingfisher, another common bird casting pellets is bee-eater LINK.

Normally, pellets are cast after a meal, not in the midst of another meal, as in this case.

Jeremiah Loei
September 2013

6 Responses

  1. Thong Chow Ngian

    Excellent video. Was the bird trying to break the fish back bone so that the fish body is more pliable and therefore easy to swallow?

  2. YC

    Initial bashing of the fish is to stun it prior to swallowing. Subsequent bashing as in this video, especially with a fish of this size, may be to break the external spines and, as suggested by Chow Ngian, to break up the backbone.

  3. Kwong

    Wise decision by the kingfisher to cast the pellet prior to swallowing such a huge fish. It’s emptying its crop to accommodate the meal as it would otherwise lead to its digestive system overworked or overloaded.

    Another reason for bashing the fish is to get rid of its scales. Just take a look at the branch on both sides of the kingfisher where the fish is bashed.

  4. YC

    Excellent observation, Kwong. You can also see the scales literally dropping off in the video. This is one great advantage of using video over camera – more details can be detected. These details will usually be missed when observing with a bino.

  5. Am

    This is probably the biggest fish I’ve seen a kingfisher swallow. I have only always seen them go for very small fish, like the size of guppies or slightly bigger.

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