You rarely see the little kingfisher. It lives in quiet places, hidden away among trees growing on the water’s edge. In search of good fishing water, it flies like a comet in a straight line. It will suddenly dive into the water from a branch to spear a fish. Enthusiasts will see the little creature more often, because they will already have picked out its characteristic ‘peep’ before the kingfisher flashes past at 80 kilometres per hour. Have you ever wondered why he has such a splendid ‘tropical’ colour?
The Ark of Noah floated around on the waters flooding the earth. Every day the animals looked out hoping to see an end come to the interminable rain and clear skies reappear. Blue had become the colour of hope for them. The hope that the mighty flood might be over and that God’s fury might abate.
One day the creatures saw a line of blue sky appear on the horizon. Was the water level finally beginning to drop? Was there actually dry ground somewhere? “Do I have a volunteer to go out, scout around and report back to me? asked Noah.
The strong white raven promptly offered his services, but then bungled his mission. Another volunteer went out to take a look around, a small gray bird with a dagger-like beak. After being confined to the stuffy interior of the Ark, the small bird flew gladly out into the fresh air. Once outside he darted happily to and fro. The sun broke through the dark clouds and the sky turned a clear blue, this bird’s favourite colour. Like a magnet he was drawn to the blue sky and flew higher and higher. So high that he looked as blue as the sky around him. The grey of his plumage turned a splendid sparkling blue-green tint. Still onwards and upwards he flew, so high that the sun burnt his breast. The pain forced the bird down into the cool waters below which quenched the smouldering flames on his breast feathers. This is how the kingfisher came to have such a splendid blue suit of feathers with a russet brown breast. When the little bird returned to the Ark feeling well-satisfied with his fabulous flight and beautiful appearance, Noah refused to let him back in because he had forgotten his task. Thus he was forced to survive on and around the water.
Ever since, these beautiful small blue-green birds only live near and from the water. They eat fish and water insects. In wintertime this can be a problem. If it freezes hard, they go hungry and hang around in small groups near the last openings in the ice, hoping to skewer a little fish. That is why they are known as “ice birds” in Dutch.
As a result of the mild winters in recent years most kingfishers manage to come through the winter period well. During severe winters half the population may die from lack of food, because the ice makes it impossible for them to catch fish. Due to this natural vulnerability, they raise many young in 2 to 3 nests per year. They build their nests in the sandy banks of steep-sided water ways. Access to their nests is through a tunnel they dig in the sand! Improvements in their natural habitat through the reconstruction of streams and a better water quality, have contributed to the increase in the kingfisher population. They are racing birds: in full flight they can even reach speeds of 80 km per hour. The difference between the male and female kingfisher is only visible on their beaks. The female’s lower beak has some orange on it, whereas the male’s is completely black.
© Els Baars, Natuurverhalen.nl