19 C
Mossel Bay
22nd Mar 2019
Nature & Nurture

Kingfishers

My first close-up encounter with young kingfishers was at the family home in Kloof, KZN, where Brown-hooded Kingfishers nested in the mud bank of the long, panhandle driveway. One especially wet year their tunnel must have been dug at a slight angle because we found several youngsters on the bricks, their feet firmly trapped in balls of mud, having rolled helplessly out of the tunnel.

According to Greek mythology, Alcyone, the daughter of the god of the winds, became so distraught when she learned that her husband had been killed in a shipwreck that she threw herself into the sea and was changed into a kingfisher. As a result, ancient Greeks called such birds halcyon. The legend is the origin of the term “halcyon days” (a happy, calm or successful period in the past): the 14 days each year during which Alcyone (as a kingfisher) laid her eggs and made her nest on the beach and during which her father Aeolus, god of the winds, restrained the winds and calmed the waves so she could do so in safety. “Halcyon” is also used as the Latin name for a genus of kingfishers which includes the Brown-hooded.

A more recent encounter with young kingfishers involved a different genus: Alcedo (from the Latin for kingfisher) semitorquata (for the white half-collar) – can you work out the English name? After a river swim on a warm late afternoon we noticed a family of five Half-collared Kingfishers on a branch above the water. Although the fledglings were almost as big as the adults, the parents were still working hard to find food items for their offspring who made no attempt to feed themselves and indeed regarded the water with positive distaste. After each feed the birds would bob gently up and down as if suffering a bout of collective hiccups. A halcyon afternoon to be sure!

Photo credit: Sally Adam

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