This is a weekly bird report written and photographed by our Interpretive Guide John Brush.
We have three species of kingfishers (family Alcedinidae) that occur in the United States, who, in order from largest to smallest, are: Ringed Kingfisher, Belted Kingfisher, and Green Kingfisher. Of those three, only the Belted Kingfisher has a widespread range in the United States, with the mostly tropical Ringed and Green Kingfishers’ ranges just getting into South Texas.
Green Kingfishers eat mainly small fish and tadpoles, which they catch by diving from low, waterside perches. They are a target species for many visiting birders, but can be difficult to find at times. Males have a rich red color on their breasts; this, mixed with the overall dark green plumage, makes these birds very attractive. Because of their food habits, they are nearly always required to be around water sources. In the Valley this includes the Rio Grande River, resacas, ponds, and even canals.
Kingfishers have an interesting breeding habit; they dig burrows in riverbanks for nests. The burrows are dug using their large, strong bills, and the resulting dirt is pushed out the back by their feet. A Green Kingfisher burrow can go up to a meter into the steep side of a riverbank, and is usually hidden behind overhanging vegetation. This makes finding their nests quite difficult! They lay 3-6 eggs in the small chamber at the end of the burrow, and both the males and females take turn incubating them and feeding the subsequent hatchlings.
Green Kingfishers can be found at various nature parks across the Valley, such as Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Estero Llano Grande State Park, Edinburg Scenic Wetlands, Quinta Mazatlan and others. Another place that offers good chances to see Green Kingfishers is the McAllen Nature Center. Last month’s birding tour to the center had good looks at male Green Kingfisher along a nearby canal.
In a place where specialty birds abound, the Green Kingfisher often stands out as being a favorite. Their hidden nests, somewhat reclusive habits, and beautiful plumage make them a bird many strive to see – how lucky we are to have them in the Rio Grande Valley!
Our next field trip to the McAllen Nature Center will be Saturday, March 16th. Registration is required. Visit our website for more information: www.quintamazatlan.com