This photo by JJ Harrison (Wikipedia)
This beautiful Azure kingfisher has been conspicuous in and around Wodonga this year. I have personally noticed it on the billabong near La Maison’s killing and swallowing its prey and on the manmade Lagoon in Les Stone Park diving from a low branch and of course at Wonga wetlands. I’ve also seen it flying along the Mitta River down Lees Lane. These shy, yet glamorous, birds can be found around our rivers, coasts and forests, and indicate a healthy ecosystem.
The Azure Kingfisher is a small kingfisher with a long slender black bill and a short tail. The head, neck, upper parts and breast sides are deep azure blue with a violet (purplish) sheen. The neck has a distinctive orange stripe on each side and there is a small orange spot before each eye. The throat is pale orange white, grading to orange-reddish on belly and undertail. The flanks and sides of the breast are washed purple to violet. The legs and feet are red. The sexes are similar. Young birds have a darker cap and are generally duller.
Photo from The Australian Museum
The Azure Kingfisher is never far from water, preferring freshwater rivers and creeks as well as billabongs, lakes, swamps and dams, usually in shady overhanging vegetation. It’s sometimes seen in parks on rivers, as well as duck or goldfish ponds in urban areas. They are found all along the eastern seaboard right down to Tasmania and are quite common and sedentary where the habitat remains suitable.
The Azure Kingfisher plunges from overhanging perches into water to catch prey. Prey items include: fish, crustaceans, aquatic insects and other invertebrates, and, sometimes, frogs. They will often bash their prey against the perch before swallowing it head first. They also watch Platypuses foraging underwater and catch any food items that are disturbed. Azure kingfishers patrol up and down waterways and rivers moving from perch to perch and flying very fast, and only a few meters off the water, typically making a loud high pitched “seeeeeeeep” call but otherwise are a very quiet bird.
Azure Kingfishers form monogamous pairs that defend a breeding territory. Both parents incubate and feed the chicks. The nest is at the end of a burrow dug out of soil in a riverbank. The tunnel slopes upwards to the nesting chamber and can be 80 cm – 130 cm long. Flooding can destroy low-lying burrows.
- Breeding season: September to January (in the south)
- Clutch size: 4 to 7, usually 5
- Incubation: 21 days
- Time in nest: 28 days
Least concern as although numbers are declining their distribution is becoming larger. Stock trampling vegetation around waterholes affects the Azure Kingfisher. Human activities that cause artificial flooding of waterways can drown nests. Water that is turbid (not clear) and the introduction of European Carp (which competes for food resources) can also adversely affect local populations.
Field Guide to Australian Birds -Michael Morcombe