Friday, 1 September 2023
Termite mounds are home to more than just termites. Dotted across the landscape across much of tropical northern Australia, these features are home to a dazzling array of wildlife, but few are more spectacular than the Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher.
These colourful birds with long, white tail-streamers nest almost exclusively in termite mounds in north-eastern Queensland’s rainforests. They excavate a tunnel into the side of the structure, with both birds of a pair taking turns at digging. The female is even said to sweep the dirt out with her tail! Up to four eggs are laid in a chamber at the end of the tunnel, straight onto the bare dirt. Like most birds which nest in hollows, the eggs are always white. They are incubated by both sexes, but only by the female at night. It’s often easy to tell when they’ve spent time incubating, as their long tail streamers become bent out of shape! After the chicks have left the nest, they are fed by both sexes.
Away from their nests, Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfishers are often shy, and are usually heard more often than they’re seen — their call is a loud, piping chop-chop-chop, given as they perch inconspicuously among the dense foliage of the rainforest. But they don’t just perch in the canopy — they also forage among the foliage, snatching insects and other invertebrates as well as frogs and small lizards from among the leaves, sometimes hovering like hummingbirds as they feed, though they feed mostly from the ground. After snatching a small item of prey, like most kingfishers, they often land on a branch and beat the prey against it to soften it up before eating it. It’s also been suggested that they may sometimes dig for worms among the leaf litter on the forest floor, as they’ve occasionally been seen with soil stuck to their beaks.
After the breeding season has finished, usually by the end of February, they migrate north to spend the Dry Season in New Guinea, with some stopping for a break on the islands in Torres Strait, while others are thought to make the flight straight across, flying low over the water. They generally do not return to Queensland until October or November, when breeding starts almost immediately after they arrive.
If you’d like to discover the wonderful rainforests where the Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfishers hide, check out BirdLife Australia’s Birdata website.
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