Bird of the Week

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    Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

    This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the belted kingfisher.
    If you have seen the opening fly-fishing scenes of “A River Runs Through It,” then you’ve likely heard the alarming rattle call of a belted kingfisher. Known to spend their life almost exclusively immediately adjacent to water, these birds thrive on the health of water bodies. They nest in muddy stream banks during breeding season and typically adopt a 1/2-mile stretch of river as their own, once mature. During the recent Christmas Bird Count, birders confirmed at least two individual birds living along our very own San Juan River in the downtown region.
    For identification purposes, look for the often-flared punk rock feather crest atop this stocky bird. When seen in silhouette, this field mark can be decisive alone when considering the habitat. These birds don a bill that puts even a woodpecker to shame: long, straight and hefty for effective fish extraction from streams. Females have two bellybands, slate blue and chestnut brown, that divide their otherwise white collar and breast; the males, on the other hand, only have a single blue “necktie” band. Otherwise, these nearly robin-sized birds appear largely solid blue-gray on their back and wings. In undulating flight, one can sometimes discern fine white spotting upon the wings.
    These birds feed primarily on fish fry, but will not hesitate to supplement with aquatic insects, crayfish, lizards and even berries, depending on availability. An interesting fact: These birds regurgitate and dispel “pellets” (as owls do) comprised of any fish scales, invertebrate shells and exoskeletons they cannot digest. However, when they are nestlings, they have the proper acidic compounds in their digestive tract to dissolve these solids.
    The next time you are wandering by the river, or casting a line in, remember to look up when you hear a constant harsh chattering, as it may be a kingfisher giving you a flyby heading upstream.
    For information on local bird-watching events, visit www.weminucheaudubon.org and www.facebook.com/weminucheaudubon/.