by Madhurima Das
In this edition of From the Aviary we speak about an occasional winter migrant to our lake, the Pied Kingfisher.
The Pied Kingfisher is the only water kingfisher to be found in the Indian subcontinent. They are easily identifiable by their black and white plumage. They can be seen hovering over clear lakes and rivers, before diving in to catch fish. This species has 5 sub-species of which Ceryle rudis is found in Karnataka.
Like other water kingfishers, their specialized vision aids in detecting movement and their wide-angle view help the Pied Kingfisher to hunt. Their hunting tactics are classified into three types: hover-plunge, perch-plunge and skimming. Hover-plunge occurs when a bird leaves a perch and progressively flies to lower and lower heights until it finally plunges into the water to pierce the prey. Perch-plunge is a tactic in which the bird sits on a perch waiting for a fish to swim close so that it can plunge directly into the water to catch it. A skimming bird will fly close to the water to hunt.
Stationary or in flight, the Pied Kingfisher is a great sight. More so that of it hovering in the air and swooping into the water to catch a fish is an enthralling sight. Its ability to spot a fish in the water from a height therefore indicates the clarity of the water.
During the breeding season, the male Pied Kingfishers perform dancing displays and offer food to potential mates. The prospective parents excavate holes in vertical mud bank in order to make nests. This is called cooperative breeding; several birds may nest in close vicinity and young non-breeding birds from an earlier brood may assist parents or even unrelated older birds.
The Pied Kingfisher was first spotted at Puttenahalli lake in June 2012. Since then it has been visiting the lake occasionally, surprising and delighting us each time.