I have seen them along lakes, agricultural channels, tiny streams and major rivers like Cauvery – most often on perches a few feet above water. Numerous times have I seen one dart down from its perch headlong, reverse its trajectory underwater, and come up with tiny fish in its beak. My limited photographic capabilities have not been able to do justice to its agility, for all I have been able to capture are the moments when it was perched, in between dives.
The dive is another masterclass. From modest perches over water, it spots a fish below – and generally the perches are not too far away to facilitate an ambush. In a flash it dives. It goes head first, snaps the fish between its mandibles and U-turns, emerging headfirst. Usually the fish would be just as big as the beak. Returning to the perch, it thrashes the fish on the hardest part of the perch, repeatedly, like a washerman pounding linen on a large concrete slab. Bones pulverized, the fish is swallowed.
Common Kingfishers are dependent on mud banks of water bodies to nest, and the greatest threat they face is loss of habitat due to urbanization. As with all birds that have ‘common’ in their name, these tiny jewels are fast disappearing as wetlands fall prey to developers.
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