Woodland kingfisher – Halcyon senegalensis In late October, we look forward to the woodland kingfisher returning to the Waterberg, seeking suitable nesting sites to raise their young. They come back to the reach of Makweti at this time because of the abundance of food available with the onset of the summer rains. It truly is a special time for us. These intra-African migrants to the north-eastern parts of South Africa start their journey as far north as south Sudan. They generally avoid arid regions and usually settle in tropical equatorial rain forests, migrating in savannah woodland areas only. The groups breeding in South Africa will migrate the furthest north for the winter, from April to September.
Everything You Want To Know About Woodland Kingfishers
These eye-catching birds nest in holes in trees, and will compete fiercely for premium nesting sites with kingfishers, other birds and small mammals. They tend to prefer large single trees with good leaf cover that stand out in the open. There is a nesting site on the Welgevonden Reserve that was observed for over a year. Bees, squirrels and green wood hoopoes occupied the space whilst the woodland kingfishers were away, but sadly, they did not return to this site to breed again this year. Perhaps next year? You never know.
The magnificent colours of the woodland kingfisher attract a lot of attention, but their call is just as beautiful and is a definitive summer sound. Highly territorial, they will spend time during the day defending territory boundaries and nest sites, calling constantly. We can’t imagine how one could ever tire of that sound.
When it comes to laying eggs, the woodland kingfisher usually lays three in the tree hole or hollow, with no additional lining. These birds are monogamous and because of the extended parental care of up to five weeks after leaving the nest, they are believed to be single brooded, meaning they have one clutch or family during the breeding season. The young grow quickly and leave the nest after around 18 to 24 days. They feed mainly on insects, mostly locusts, cicadas and butterflies, but they will also hunt small fish, frogs, lizards and small snakes. There have been records of them feeding on birds prey too, including nestlings of the black-collared barbet and red-billed quelea.
At the time of putting this post together it was mid-March, and most of the offspring were four to six months old. They had started moving north looking for a warmer climate. Many of the other summer breeding and non-breeding migrant bird species had started their journeys too, including the red chested cuckoos, red breasted swallows and some of the groups of European bee-eaters. We eagerly await the woodland kingfisher’s characteristic call emanating from the thickets of the waterberry trees; a sound that also spells the arrival of summer.