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A Nature Journal

Kingfisher Attack

A two-century-old homestead site, turned into a public garden, once had a large wood lot for fuel. The wood lot, part of the upland forest along the upper reaches of the Sangamon River corridor, is now declining. Huge earthbound white oaks spatter the wood lot's western cusp with snags and declining limbs in the canopy. This is where a pair of kingfishers perches year after year, peering down on a small landlocked koi pond not more than one hundred feet away.

The koi minnows appear like orange beacons in the murky water, easy prey for the kingfishers; and an oriental-style footbridge crossing the pond makes a perfect place to dine. The kingfishers take turns dropping from a dead branch high in the canopy, opening their wings in a free fall flight. One of them swoops down, descending upon the pond, and catches an orange and white spotted koi minnow nearly as big as the kingfisher's body. Like a "hot shot" pilot, the kingfisher ascends, maneuvering under the bridge going into a half barrel roll to position itself for a landing on the bridge handrail closest to its mate perched high in the oak tree. The minnow is still wiggling and flopping in the kingfisher's beak. Putting on a show for its mate, it flips the minnow several times so that the minnow's head is facing down the kingfisher's throat. Then the kingfisher starts banging and hammering its dinner on the iron rail of the bridge until it is lifeless. In two or three choking gulps, the minnow is down. In an almost duplicate flight pattern, the kingfisher's mate takes and eats another minnow. Minnow number two is gone.

This feeding ritual takes place over and over again each morning and early evening, every day until the young are raised. Large koi produce thousands of offspring every season, which would overpopulate a small pond very quickly. The pair of kingfishers is beneficial to the health of the pond and the uneaten koi minnows. So, it's a win-win situation for the kingfishers and the koi pond, except for the minnows that disappear… sushi.

Story by Larry Beckett