Sea Foam: Kingfisher is queen of Callawassie Island's causeway

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comMarch 19, 2012 

Kingfisher on the wire on Callawassie Island's causeway.

SPECIAL TO LOWCOUNTRY LIFE

Thanks to Mary Quigly of Callawassie Island for sharing an article she wrote for her neighbors.

SPECIAL FRIEND

By Mary Quigly

I have a special little friend on Callawassie's causeway. My friend is often there to see me off when I depart the island and to greet me upon my return. Like a sentry guard, a small, elegant kingfisher sits on the phone line overlooking our marsh.

I've thought of this kingfisher as my own special bird and was surprised to discover that many on the island think of this bird as "my kingfisher." He has a shaggy-crested head that appears overly large for his small but rotund body. He sits on the wire looking for food and suddenly plunges beneath the surface to catch his meal.

I thought my kingfisher only ate fish and was surprised to read kingfishers eat small fish and crustaceans but also might enjoy amphibians, insects, reptiles and even small mammals. This somewhat modified my impression of the bird.

I've lived on Callawassie for 10 years, and the kingfisher has been on that wire every year I can remember. I've always thought my kingfisher had a relationship with Callawassie and returned to the wire year after year to continue that relationship. I was surprised to read kingfishers generally don't live more than a year or two.

I queried Dr. Chris Marsh at the Spring Island Nature Center: How can that be? My friend comes back every year.

Dr. Marsh explained our marsh is a much-valued territory for a kingfisher, so when one passes on, there is one to quickly replace him. I guess I have to modify my impression again. Dick Eckhardt assures me our kingfisher is the oldest bird in Beaufort County and is 16 years old. That's Dick's story, and he's sticking to it. I kind of like it, too.

I've also asked myself, where does the little kingfisher have his home? He doesn't have a nest on that wire. The nesting place for a kingfisher is a hole excavated in a bank by the birds (both male and female) and extending inward to a depth of 5 to 10 feet. Eggs are laid in early April. Next time I go for a kayak tour of the island, I'll have to see whether I can spot one of their holes on the bluff of the marsh.

I have always thought my little kingfisher is a male, but I have to be honest and say I haven't gotten close enough to see for sure. I just thought he didn't have a lot of color, so he must be a male.

The male belted kingfisher has one dark belt around its body, the female has two, one of which is red. Joan Eckhardt and Chip Upjohn took photos that reveal a small amount of red on the breast of my little kingfisher. My birder friends tell me this is sufficient indication that he is a she.

My research reveals kingfishers have "reverse sexual dimorphism," which means the female is more brightly colored than the male. I guess I have to modify my impression of this bird yet again and start referring to my little kingfisher as her instead of him.

Either way, I'm happy to share the Callawassie Island causeway with my little Kingfisher, and I'm happy to share my little kingfisher with all of you who also think of her as your special friend.

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