Stork-billed Kingfisher rejects freshly caught prey

on 13th January 2016

“On the evening of 29th November 2015, I was photographing a Stork-billed Kingfisher (Pelargopsis capensis) hunting for prey at Sungei Tampines, Pasir Ris Park. After 1.5 hours of several unsuccessful attempts and aborted dives, finally the Kingfisher made a successful dive and caught a Tilapia fish. By this time, the sky was getting very dim as it approached 6.30pm and I do apologise for the poor quality images.

In Picture 1 (above), the bird was holding on to it’s freshly caught prey and shaking water out of its body vigorously.

“In Picture 2 (above), the bird tossed the fish to swallow it head first which is very typical of this species of kingfisher, but it tossed the fish too high. From my previous field observations, this bird typically tossed its prey less than 1 cm above the pointed end of the upper bill. In this picture, it showed a height of approximately 3-4 cm. Another observation was the spread of its wings, probably trying to balance itself to catch the falling prey. This is not a typical behavior of this bird. Most of the time, the wings are tucked beside its flanks when it tosses a prey. It probably realised that it had made a mistake with the toss and is trying to compensate for it.

“Picture 3 (above) shows the bird catching the body of the fish, instead of the head of the fish entering the throat of the bird. This picture also shows the eyes of the bird being covered by a second set of eyelids, probably to protect the eyes from falling pieces of the fish.

“Picture 4 (above) shows the fish slipping out of the bill, probably due to an error by the bird in catching the tossed fish.

“Picture 5 (above) shows the fish descending towards the riverbank.

“Picture 6 (above) shows the bird looking helplessly at the location where the fish landed. We could also see fish scales lining the edges of the red pointed bill. Fortunately for the bird, it was low tide and the fish landed on the dry riverbank.

“Picture 7 (above) shows the bird attempting to retrieve the fish from the riverbank filled with barnacled boulders.

“Picture 8 (above) shows the bird had successfully retrieved the fallen fish and taking off to find a perch to swallow the fish. But the next set of pictures showed a bizarre behavior of the bird before it rejected the fish.

“Picture 9 (above) shows the bird has landed on a different perch.

“Picture 10 (above) shows the bird beginning to smack the fish against the branch. At this stage, the body of the fish still looks intact with no major physical injuries.

Picture 11 (above) shows the bird tossing the fish but not in a typical feeding fashion because the head of the fish is pointing to the side of the bill instead of pointing towards the throat.

“Picture 12 shows the bird smacking the fish again and by this time, the body of the fish showed several bruises below the eye and behind the gills.

“Picture 13 (above) shows more bruises below the body of the fish and visible signs of bleeding.

“Picture 14 (above) shows more vicious attempts at smacking the fish against the thick branch.

“Picture 15 (above) shows the bird twisting its head to ensure the fish is smacked on both sides of its body. Notice the bird’s right eye is covered by the second set of eyelids.

“Picture 16 shows the fish bleeding even more at the lower part of the body.

“Picture 17 (above) shows the bird lifting its head.

“Picture 18 shows another view of the fish while the bird’s head is lifted. Notice by now the fish is bleeding profusely and the body is badly bruised. From Picture 10 to 18, the bird had been smacking the fish for about 2 minutes before it stopped.

“At this point, for some unknown reason, the bird suddenly seemed uninterested in its prey and dropped it to the dry riverbank and then it flew off.

“In conclusion, these pictures showed a couple of bizarre behaviors of a Storkbilled Kingfisher which spent 1.5 hours hunting for its prey. When it finally made a successful catch and found its favorite perch, it over tossed its prey, misjudged the falling fish and it landed on the dry riverbank. It retrieved the fish , flew to another perch and began smacking the fish which was already dead and motionless by then. After a couple minutes of smacking the fish, the bird just dropped its prey and flew off.

“It would be good to hear several views of this bizarre behavior of a Storkbilled Kingfisher rejecting a freshly caught prey.”

Thong Chow Ngian
31st December 2015

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.

Other posts by YC Wee

3 Responses

  1. Congratulations on the fantastic series of photos on the Stork Billed Kingfisher. Now, to postulate why it gave up on the Tilapia. One reason is that it realised that it had bitten off more than it could chew, and simply gave up. Under captive conditions, I have known other types of birds (e.g. shamas) carnivorous fish, and reptiles to attack and attempt to consume consume large prey items, then, after considerable effort, decide that the risk of injury was not worth it, and give up. Usually, the attacker will subsequently lose all interest in the prey, and go to look for something else.

    The Kingfisher could have been a young, inexperienced and desperately hungry hunter.

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