This week’s What’s on the van? comes from Malgosia Nowak-Kemp, Collections Manager in the Museum’s Life Collections.
Kingfishers belong to a family Alcenidae where they are organised into 14 genera with 86 species. Most of them live in the tropics and only a small number of species venture into temperate zones as migrant breeders. Some species feed on forest-floor or air-borne insects, some prey on birds and reptiles and some, similar to our native species, on fish. Kingfishers living away from water, called the tree kingfishers, adopt a sit-and-wait strategy to catch their prey on the ground, whereas kingfishers living near lakes, rivers or streams, the so-called river kingfishers, deep-dive either from a perch or from hovering flight.
The kingfisher you see painted on the van is called the black-capped kingfisher, Latin name Halcyon pileata. It lives in tropical Asia, from India to China, Korea and Southeast Asia. This is a relatively big kingfisher whose length reaches about 28cm.
The black-capped kingfisher is a river kingfisher, found near coastal waters, especially in mangroves. It surveys the area from a high perch and hunts not only for insects but also for frogs and fish. As in other kingfishers, it has very good eyesight, enabling it to cope with reflections on the rippling surface and light refraction of the water, which makes the prey appear to be nearer the surface than it really is.
It makes its nest on the banks near water, with both sexes excavating the nest tunnel. A single clutch of 4-5 round white eggs is typical, with the female being mostly responsible for the incubation. The eggs hatch at daily intervals, resulting in a marked size difference between the chicks. Both parents are equally involved with feeding the brood.
This particular specimen of the black-capped kingfisher was collected in Bangladesh and, after being prepared by a taxidermist, was displayed in a glazed case for a number of years. It came to the Museum in 1963 as part of a large donation of bird skins presented by B.B. Osmaston.