Page:Ornithological biography, or an account of the habits of the birds of the United States of America, volume 1.djvu/423

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
393
BELTED KINGSFISHER.

of our northern rivers becomes frozen, the Kingsfisher, instead of skimming closely over the surface that no longer allows it to supply itself with food, passes high above the tallest trees, and takes advantage of every short cut which the situation of the river affords. By this means it soon reaches a milder climate. This is also frequently the case, when it seems tired of the kind of fish that occurs in a lake, and removes to another in a direct line, passing over the forests, not unfrequently by a course of twenty or thirty miles towards the interior of the country. Its motions when on wing consist of a series of flaps, about five or six in number, followed by a direct glide, without any apparent undulation. It moves in the same way when flying closely over the water.

If, in the course of such excursions, the bird passes over a small pool, it suddenly checks itself in its career, poises itself in the air, like a Sparrow-hawk or Kestril, and inspects the water beneath, to discover whether there may be fishes in it suitable to its taste. Should it find this to be the case, it continues poised for a few seconds, dashes spirally headlong into the water, seizes a fish, and alights on the nearest tree or stump, where it swallows its prey in a moment.

The more usual range of the Belted Kingsfisher, however, is confined to the rivers and creeks that abound throughout the United States; all of which, according to the seasons, are amply supplied with various fishes, on the fry of which this bird feeds. It follows their course up to the very source of the small rivulets; and it is not unusual to hear the hard, rapid, rattling notes of our Kingsfisher, even amongst the murmuring cascades of our higher mountains. When the bird is found in such sequestered situations, well may the angler be assured that trout is abundant. Mill-ponds are also favourite resorts of the Kingsfisher, the usual calmness of the water in such places permitting it to discover its prey with ease. As the freshets are proportionally less felt on the adjoining shores, the holes dug in the earth or sand by this species, in which it deposits its eggs, are generally found in places not far from a mill worked by water.

I have laid open to my view several of these holes, in different situations and soils, and have generally found them to be formed as follows. The male and female, after having fixed upon a proper spot, are seen clinging to the bank of the stream in the manner of Woodpeckers. Their long and stout bills are set to work, and as soon as the hole has acquired a certain depth, one of the birds enters it, and scratches out the