The Sacred Kingfisher is June's Bird of the Month.
The Sacred Kingfisher, a brightly coloured medium sized bird, is a spring and summer visitor to the Parklands. Although most often seen around the edges of the ponds, like its larger cousin, the Laughing Kookaburra, they can also be found in woodlands away from water. Both these birds are members of a large family known as the Tree Kingfishers.
The plumage of the Sacred Kingfisher can display significant variation in the richness of its colour. The crown of the head, the wings, back and rump range from a rich blue to turquoise. The underparts range from white to almost orange. The colours are generally brighter at the beginning of the breeding season, and fade with feathers molting in autumn.
It has a long, dagger-shaped bill, with a buff band running from the base of the bill to above the eye. A white collar runs from below the bill around the neck, and a black band runs above it, separating it from the blue crown.
Sacred Kingfishers range from Indonesia across New Guinea to the Solomon Islands, and down through New Caledonia to New Zealand. They are found throughout Australia except for the arid deserts of the interior, and can inhabit open eucalypt forests, paperbark forests, mangroves, and along the edges of streams and rivers, so the Parklands provide a variety of suitable habitats.
They are migratory and move south through Australia for the spring/summer breeding season, and in autumn they move northwards as far as New Guinea and Indonesia.
They feed on small reptiles, large insects such as crickets, grasshoppers, beetles and their larvae. When near water, they will also take crustaceans and small fish. The Sacred Kingfisher perches on low branches in search of prey, remaining still except for occasional bobs of the head. When prey is detected they swoop down, snatching it in their powerful bill, and return to the perch to eat it.
Outside of the breeding season, Sacred Kingfishers live solitary lives. After spending the winter in the north of their range, they migrate south in spring to find a mate and territory to occupy. A breeding pair will find a suitable hollow branch, or burrow into a termite nest, or even an earthen riverbank. Both male and female Sacred Kingfishers use their powerful bills to dig out an unlined nesting chamber, and the female lays 3 to 6 eggs.
Both sexes share incubation for about 17 days and care of the baby nestlings for around 4 weeks until they fledge, leaving the nest. The parents continue to feed the fledglings for about one week after they fledge, and their young may remain in the territory. During this time, the adults nest for a second time, and the first clutch of fledglings help with feeding the second clutch.
In the Park:
The Ern Hoskin 1990 archive of birds in Centennial Park lists the Sacred Kingfisher as a regular breeding summer migrant. Today, pairs and family groups are still reported, but no longer regularly sighted. They can be chanced upon throughout the Parklands, but are most often seen around the Kensington Pond and Mission Fields.
Photo Credit: Tony Spira