The sounds of August can be heard in the skies overhead as avian "dogfights" imitate the skilled Blue Angels. Even they would find it challenging to engage their target from the top of a tree and chase it through more trees. The rattling call of a belted kingfisher is one of August’s familiar sounds. Nesting season is over. Families are breaking up and territorial arguments occur as these solitary birds attempt to establish hunting territories.
Kingfishers look upon taking a mate and raising a family as a bothersome task they endure for the survival of their species. For most of the year each bird, male or female, rules a stretch of beach it has no intention of sharing with another kingfisher. An accepted rule of thumb for determining a bird’s territory assigns each kingfisher about a quarter mile of shoreline. Utility poles, trees, sailboat masts, pilings and other available perching spots often mark boundary lines.
This is most noticeable should someone stray over the imaginary line. If they are spotted by the ruling occupant, the chase is on. Most of these territorial arguments will have been sorted out once fall arrives. Hopefully there will be enough shoreline to go around and this year’s young can carve out their own hunting territory. That’s the reason for August’s noisy skies.
You can’t ignore a kingfisher’s angry rattle when it is overhead. Their noisy chasing of one another often goes on throughout the day. It can be heard all over the neighborhood and it’s a little strange to hear a kingfisher scold from somewhere in a stand of evergreen trees. That’s not the same as watching one fly up a tree-lined river while rattling at something that may have upset it. When one is sitting in a stand of Douglas fir trees, waiting to pounce, it’s unusual but that’s what happens in August. When kingfishers chase away an unwelcome member of the family they don’t stop until their offspring or former mate has been banished to distant regions.
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As late summer arrives young kingfishers experience real stress. Neither of their parents want anything to do with them and their siblings are ready to fight at the drop of a hat. In the meantime, the rest of us are seeing some exciting action over our heads. Sometimes, when this territorial scrambling is taking place, these birds will check out water they seldom visit. If you have a small pond in your yard, it could get a second look. The first time this happened in our yard, I was concerned for the goldfish. They’ve been gone for years but when a kingfisher now sits in the cedar tree near our manmade water feature, trust the frogs are keeping a low profile.
Late summer finds us trying to slow the turning of the calendar’s pages, but there are sights and sounds among the birds that make this time of the year interesting and something to look forward to. After all, September is just an extension of summer isn’t it?
Write to Joan Carson, PO Box 217, Poulsbo, WA 98370 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org)