The Kingfisher: A Little Bruiser

Guest blogger: Campaign Manager for the Kingfisher, Stephanie Gray.

If I were to paint our Sacred Kingfisher in caricature, I’d give him a little leather jacket in midnight-blue.

The Kingfisher, Craig McKenzie

The Kingfisher, Craig McKenzie

For he is a thug. A stunning little predator. A handsome, hard-headed, supremely successful species that excels at pulverising the small prey he swoops upon.

Skinks, silvereyes and dragon-flies are all flung against fence posts and dashed on river rocks until every bone is broken and they can then be swallowed whole.

The Sacred Kingfisher, Kotare, relishes this regal diet. He is not (surprisingly) not that fussed with fish but will raid your goldfish pond when wild food is scarce. For his appetite, and for love of the kingfishers in my seaside neighbourhood, I nominate the Kotare as Bird of the Year.

Although not as family-friendly as the Kereru, championed by Kiri Te Kanawa this year, and although not as graceful as the Pied Stilt (Poaka) at the heart of Sam Hunt’s campaign, the Kotare nonetheless deserves your vote.

I admire their gloss, their muscle and keen eye. I like that they can be found nationwide—on sheltered coasts, marine harbours, wetlands, open country, forests, in suburban parks and gardens.

Right now, in spring, they are flocking back to the coast and to cities after a winter weathered inland. In monogamous pairs they will hunt out nest-spots in clay banks, and will take turns to fly at the bank like torpedoes, using exceptionally robust skulls to hammer a little hole that they then excavate.

Alison Balance and Rod Morris’ “Beautiful Birds of New Zealand” explains how the birds’ skulls are brilliantly structured to absorb the shock. Geoff Moon’s remarkable photos of Kingfishers piercing the skin of ponds convinced me of their physical, unusual beauty.

Most recently I read of the Kingfisher who approved (as a god in the bird’s form), human sacrifice in the 18th Century South Pacific. The following excerpt is from Anne Salmond’s “The Trial of the Cannibal Dog”.

“After this [the human sacrifice] the eye and the hair were taken back to the priests who sat on the beach. When a kingfisher cried our in the trees around the marae, Tu seemed pleased, remarking to Cook, ‘That’s the Atua [god] speaking.’”

If Captain James Cook were alive today, I’m sure I could convince him to vote for the Kotare as Bird of the Year. Especially if I buttered him up with a Tahitian baked pudding using the 18th Century recipe of breadfruit, banana and coconut cream that he drooled over in his letters home to England.

As for your good selves, I’ll trust you to consider the Kotare a worthy candidate—to see the light in his eyes, admire his fine diving and dignified character for which the Sacred Kingfisher was named.

To vote for your favourite bird go here - Polls close on October 14.

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  1. September 18, 2009 10:51 am
    Barbara McGillivray says

    I am not so sure about the kingfisher overwintering in the bush and returning to the shore in spring comment.

    We live in the Kaimais. Kingfisher disappear over winter and last Saturday they were BACK! Their incessant and penitrating cherping rivalling the more melodious spring herald of the riro riro.

    Have they been away all winter or have they just been silent and secretive?

  2. October 14, 2009 3:34 pm
    mike barry says

    “I’ll trust you to consider the Kotare a worthy candidate”. Well said as he is a native and his Maori name should be used always.

  3. February 8, 2010 7:18 am
    Christine Ng says

    Over the past month in Kaiaua,I have had the honour of observing a kingfisher family nesting 2 lots of chicks.
    The first batch consisting of 2 babies, one was to fall from the nest at an early age leaving one two mature, which it did. the pair have since had another batch consisting of four or possibly five however, beach-combers damaged the nesting log, exposing the chicks, which we covered up, thankfully the babies and parents doing well about to reach full plumage, absolutely beautiful birds relentless in their persuit of food to feed there ravenous chicks. Not the best housekepers. A special wonderous time had watching these amaizing birds

  4. March 4, 2010 9:50 am
    Jimmy Keogh says

    We live on the coast in Westmere on Auckland harbour and there have been four or five pair occupying the papa cliff at the end of our garden, overlooking our moored boats.. They did most of their hunting from the rigging of my sailing boat. Because of their normal toilet habits I found them rather annoying. But, when I saw a pair of them drive off a large Pacific gull from the boat my attitude softened for I know who I would rather clean up after. Now,sadly, we have not seen any for about six weeks , whereas they seemed to be around all the time over the last eleven years. February , March seems abit early for migration and I wonder if the introduction of two cats into the neighborhood has any thing to do with their disappearance.

  5. March 8, 2010 9:06 pm
    anne says

    I’ve had some kingfishers visit my place (in Mt Roskill Auckland) every year for years and years. But they do disappear for long periods during each year, then return. Always amazed me because my place isn’t right next to any water bodies.

  6. December 7, 2014 3:43 pm
    Jock says

    We have a gully section in Hamilton NZ and have been watching a pair of Kingfisher for the last 6 or 7 years .

    They go in the winter and return early Spring , this year they have decided to nest in our gully section . They have excavated their tunnels in two willow tree trunks .

    It’s fascinating watching them and find we are doing this night and morning .

    Distinguishing between female an male is a little difficult but think we may have it …… One is off white ( male ?!) in the breast area and the other a creamy white ( female ?!)… can anybody add to this ?

    We are looking forward to when they nest .



  7. December 10, 2014 12:16 pm
    Jock says

    Alas ….. The neighbours cat got the Kingfisher eggs …… Bugger !!,!


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