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Kotare - sacred kingfisher - Halcyon sancta

Photographed at Otukaikino wetland.

A tree kingfisher found in the mangroves, forests, and river valleys of Australia, Fiji, Indonesia, New Caledonia, New Zealand (where it is the only native species of kingfisher) Norfolk Island, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and the Wallis and Futuna Islands. In New Zealand, T. sanctus vagans shows altitudinal migration, with post-breeding movement from higher altitudes to the coast and also from forest to coast and open lands.

It is 19-23 cm long.

The kingfisher is a brightly coloured bird, deep green-blue on the head and upperparts. Pale yellowish buff underparts and a creamy white collar around the neck. Long, dark, broad bill and black eye with a yellowish buff eyebrow that starts at the bill and finishes above and beyond the eye.

The dagger-like bill is used in the breeding season to excavate a tunnel in an earth bank by repeatedly flying at the bank at full speed, neck outstretched and uttering a peculiar whirring call. Once the tunnel has started and the hole is big enough to perch in, the kingfisher then continues to excavate the tunnel by pecking and scooping out the loosen earth. The tunnel is sloped slightly upwards and ends with a chamber for the nest. Despite their name, kingfishers do not necessarily eat fish. They tend to populate coastal areas but some are entirely terrestrial. Those around the coastal waters eat small crabs and fish, in fresh water they'll eat tadpoles, freshwater crayfish and other small fish. In the open country they eat earthworms, cicadas, weta, stick insects, dragonflies, chafer beetles, other beetles, spiders, lizards, mice and small birds (especially silvereyes). I have seen them taking cicadas on the wing during heavy hatches of these insects.


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Taken on August 25, 2012