King Fisher, The Bird Of Excellence
By Obiabin Onukwugha
Kingfishers are a vibrant and unique family of birds, with most species found in tropical regions across Africa, Asia, Oceania and Europe.
Their bright colors make them easily identifiable among the foliage of deep forests near calm ponds or rivers and give them an excellent and beautiful appearance.
They come in three subfamilies: tree kingfishers (Halcyoninae), water kingfishers (Cerylinae) and river kingfishers (Alcedinidae).
Kingfisher birds have short legs used for perching along branches overhanging streams or lakes; they also possess strong beaks perfect for catching fish.
The design of a kingfisher’s beak is aerodynamically efficient, allowing it to dive from its perch, towards its prey, with maximum speed and minimum splash. In fact, the beak design is so clever that the front of many Japanese bullet trains are modelled to mimic it.
It is known in Hausa as “Kamum kifi”, “Apon” in Yoruba and “Nnunu” in Igbo.
Kingfisher feathers reflect light in a way that scientists describe as semi-iridescent thus giving it its magnificent colours. Iridescence is produced by the ways in which layers of material are perfectly aligned and repeated periodically to achieve a shimmer effect.
Kingfishers are territorial carnivores, with some species defending their territories vigorously. They are generally monogamous, although cooperative breeding has been observed in some species.
A kingfisher’s short tail allows the bird to turn easily when it is underwater. The dagger-like bick is useful for spearing fish, insects, and other food.
When praying, these little hunters will remain motionless as if suspended from thin air until an unsuspecting prey comes within reach.
Then they swoop down quickly to grab their meal. They have what scientists call nictitating membrane, which is a thin translucent eyelid that protect their eyes when they dive underwater.
Kingfishers are unlikely ever to be seen in a garden, unless the garden is large enough to be home to a large flowing river.
Kingfishers spend their time alone until it is time to mate. During mating season, the birds pair up to build nests for their eggs. They make nests in the hollows of trees or dig tunnels in banks of earth and take turns to incubate the eggs . Their eggs hatch after 18 days.
After the eggs hatch, the parents raise their young together. The offspring of the kingfisher usually stay with the parents for 3 to 4 months. When the babies are old enough, the parents go off on their own again.
Kingfishers is said to have a life span of 20 years but most of their young die while diving into the deep because they are not yet strong enough. Scientist say it is for this reason that the king fisher breed as much as three times a years.
King fisher are also prey to other wild such as foxes, minks, dingoes, skunks, raccoons, chimpanzees, snakes , monitor lizards, driver ants, and mongooses.
Like many other birds, King Fisher contribute to healthy environment and the ecosystem through its activities. They keep the environment clean by acting as scavengers, protect the plant community by controlling pests and other vermin.
They are also an indication for healthy ecosystem as you won’t see them around polluted waters since the fish population will not be big enough to survive them. This is because, in order to survive, the king fisher must eat its body weight in fish, every day.
A story of the King Fisher has been told severally in Greek mythology
The story of Alcyone and Ceyx in Greek mythology is one of love and metamorphosis, strangely enough it is also a story that has given rise to the term “halcyon days” in the English language.
It is said that Alcyone was the daughter of Aeolus, although it is not totally clear which of the Aeoluses who appeared in Greek mythology was her father. Some tell it was a king of Thessaly with Enarate or Aegiale bearing Alcyone; or else it was Aeolus, the king of the Aeolian Islands and the ruler of the winds. This second Aeolus makes more sense in terms of later events in the myth of Alcyone and Ceyx.
Ceyx was the son of Eosphorus (Hesperus) the Morning Star and his partner Philonis.
Alcyone, daughter of Eolus, the wind-god, impelled by love for her husband Ceyx, whom she found dead on the shore after a shipwreck, threw herself into the sea. The gods, rewarding their conjugal love, changed the pair into kingfishers.
In those days, the king fisher was said to lay it’s eggs on a floating nest in the ocean during the winter. Mysteriously, the sea was calm for two weeks until the eggs were hatched.
The Greeks believe that Zeus ensured that there would be no winter storms for seven days every winter. While her father Aeolus keeps the winds and waves in check, the kingfisher can hatch her eggs during these ‘Halcyone days’.
To this day, the Greeks firmly believe in these Halcyone days, a period between mid-January and mid-February when the weather suddenly turns exceptionally warm.