Belted kingfishers are found throughout North America; as a matter of fact they are considered one of the most widespread land birds in same. They are not considered year-round residents on the Island, but if the winter is mild and there is open water, belted kingfishers can be seen on the Vineyard all year long. Small numbers of belted kingfishers breed on the Vineyard. We are pretty sure that these breeding birds do not remain year-round, but migrate south to areas in Central and northern South America. However those kingfishers that breed north of the Vineyard come to spend the winters on-Island.
Unlike most birds, the female belted kingfisher is more colorful than the male. She has a brick red band across her chest where the male has an all-white breast. Males establish a territory and try to entice a female to breed with them by presenting her with a fish. After breeding, the pair performs one aerial display which includes flying high and descending to dip close to the surface of nearby water. The female then returns to a perch and the male continues to show off by doing spiral ascents, stalls and even somersaulting on his way down.
The nest, a burrow into a bank, is excavated by both male and female belted kingfishers. The female lays five to seven eggs and although both share in the incubation which lasts about 22 days, the female takes the lion’s share. Both parents are defensive and guard their territory aggressively.
Recently Bert Fischer watched two belted kingfishers and e-mailed me the following which he observed on Nov. 2:
“Yesterday afternoon I heard a kingfisher chittering, looked up and two were flying overhead about two hundred feet off the ground. Knowing how territorial they are, I figured one was trying to chase the other away but they kept up the erratic flying in circles for a solid half hour and they were extremely vocal. It didn’t appear that they were angry with one another because they took turns following each other, circling over fields, woods and Squibnocket Pond. If it were spring I would assume it was a mating ritual and although it is fall I’m guessing it was some sort of courtship, perhaps one bird lost a mate this season and these birds discovered one another and are thinking ahead.”
Bert asked if I had seen this type of behavior before and I hadn’t. It may be that a young Vineyard kingfisher was still around and hadn’t migrated and was lonely and so when a northern cousin showed up they had a gam. But Bert’s hypotheses might also be correct. I do wish we could ask them what they were up to!
Back on Oct. 26 Bob (Wax) Waxkiewick called to report that his friend Andy Lambert, a Vermonter down to do some fishing, spotted two osprey fishing over Lobsterville Beach.
On Nov. 1, Gus Ben David had a brown creeper visit the yard of the World of Reptiles and Birds. He also noted that Neil Maciel came in with a yellow-billed cuckoo that had hit the windshield of one of his student drivers. It wasn’t the student’s fault; the bird was probably chasing insects and wasn’t watching where he was going.
Carol Dell called as did Ann Lemenager to report the arrival of the brant at Ocean Park. It seems that Carol saw them first on Oct. 26, a few days earlier than the Bairds’s report. Ann also spotted a peregrine falcon and hooded mergansers around Farm Pond.
Mike Ditchfield counted and photographed part of a flock of 30 tree swallows that settled on the right fork at Katama on Nov. 3. He also watched two immature northern harriers harassing each other over just south of the Katama Airfield the same day.
Flip Harrington, Lanny McDowell, Allan Keith and I birded around the Gay Head Cliffs and Squibnocket on Nov. 4. We had large numbers of northern gannets flying by the overlook and two red-tailed hawks hovering over the cliffs using the thermals to keep them aloft. We also had both red-throated and common loons, a northern harrier and large numbers of American robins. At Squibnocket we added northern flickers, Blackpoll warbler, American wigeon, gadwalls, black ducks, 25 ruddy ducks, 25 scaup species, large numbers of black and white-winged scoters, three long-tailed ducks, harlequin ducks and pied and horned grebes. Later Lanny McDowell photographed one of 25 green-winged teal that were visiting the large pond at Keith Farm.
The same day Bob Woodruff and friend Dick Anderson watched a flock of 30 plovers working the plowed and unplowed fields at Seven Gates Farm. The flock was very nervous and didn’t settle for long, so although there might have been some golden plovers mixed in, Bob felt the majority were black-bellied plovers.
Matt Pelikan visited Wampesket in Oak Bluffs on Nov. 6 and found an eastern towhee, two gray catbirds, a brown thrasher, a winter wren and a bonus bird, a northern waterthrush. This warbler should be long gone by now, although Brad Winn spotted one on the Christmas Bird count in 2005!
Lanny McDowell went back to Gay Head on Nov. 6 and found Lincoln’s and savannah sparrows, a peregrine falcon, one immature northern gannet, a flock of American robins mixed in with seven eastern bluebirds, a flock of red-winged blackbirds and an immature northern harrier. On telephone poles as he headed down-Island Lanny counted three turkey vultures.
Meanwhile down-Island Mike Ditchfield watched an endless number of northern gannets flying along South Beach headed west, and a single northern harrier at Katama.
On Nov. 7 Jeff Bernier found four black ducks and several brant in Katama Bay. At Slough Cove he photographed a sharp-shinned hawk. In Oak Bluffs harbor he photographed an immature common loon and in the little pond at the State Forest he counted 18 green-winged teal.
Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-645-2913 or e-mail email@example.com. Susan B. Whiting is the coauthor of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her Web site is vineyardbirds2.com.