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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

#21: Belted Kingfisher - Sandy Creek Park, NC

I don’t always see Belted Kingfishers. But when I do, I prefer to visit Sandy Creek to see them. It seems like any body of water should hold these magnificent, raucous creatures, but for some reason I tend to find them reliably at a handful of places, and yet they tend to be completely absent from others. But at Sandy Creek, I can always look forward to hearing the rattling call of a Belted Kingfisher dashing over its ponds, creeks, and trails.

Getting this particular shot was pretty interesting. Usually Belted Kingfishers are quite skittish, bailing before you’re even within eyesight, and never staying in one place for very long. If a Passerine acts this way you have a failsafe – you can always try a bit of playback, and in the right season, it usually works. I’d never tried this with kingfishers, but I saw no reason why it wouldn’t work. After all, kingfishers quite obviously and rather loudly use their calls to communicate, and the call of an outsider should send them over to investigate. I have the feeling there are several unconventional species that playback would attract, such as hummingbirds and shorebirds, but that’s a discussion for another time. On this day at Sandy Creek, we watched a kingfisher fly past as it often would, and I decided it was time for action.

As I pressed the playback button on my fancy phone, the kingfisher didn’t seem to respond at all. In fact, she (as you can tell by the rusty band across the chest) seemed rather repelled by it, quickly flying to the other side of the pond. Soon after, she rattled off her call from over the nearby woods. At this point, it became obvious she’d pulled a complete 180, and was now headed for a snag near us overlooking the big pond. She clamored off her call at the invisible intruder, and James was able to snap this shot of her, at closer range than we’ve ever seen another kingfisher.

Belted Kingfisher - Sandy Creek Park, NC; 07/24/2010

After we had the shot, I turned off the call. We headed back to the parking lot, she flew off over the pond to do whatever it is kingfishers do when birders aren’t around to watch them. To this day, I can always find the kingfishers at Sandy Creek and enjoy them, playback or not. But I’ll always remember that time we had one cackling above our heads as we watched in awe not twenty feet below.


  1. I have experienced the exact same thing trying to photograph Belted Kingfishers. I know one place they burrow and nest, so next spring I'm going to set up my blind there with a perfect view of one of their favorite perches.

    Anyway, I have been keeping notes of which birds respond to playback and which ones do not. I should probably invite others to share what they have learned.

  2. @Birding is Fun!: I agree, it's odd which birds respond to playback. Like, out west and out east, I've found Bewick's Wrens and Carolina Wrens don't respond especially well to playback. Winter Wrens (and perhaps Pacific Wrens?) really react to it, as do House Wrens. I seriously want to try it out on shorebirds though... haven't gotten around to it!