How do kingfishers excavate their nesting burrows?

Ornithologist Mike Toms discusses how kingfisher pairs work together to dig their nesting burrows.


Kingfishers usually choose an area free of vegetation to avoid predators © Steve Young / Getty


For a small bird such as a kingfisher, digging out a nesting burrow that can be up to 130cm in length is a Herculean task.

A pair works on the burrow together, choosing a steep or vertical bank situated over water.

The male starts things off by flying at a spot on the bank and attempting to loosen the soil with his beak. These initial attempts can be haphazard, but once the birds have removed sufficient soil to gain a foothold, they can more easily perch and peck at the soil in a woodpecker-like manner.

Work continues on and off throughout the day, with the pair taking it in turns to dig and with the excavating bird always watched over by its mate.

The tunnel is just 5cm wide, so a bird has to reverse out, kicking the soil backwards with its feet. Only when a kingfisher exits head- first does it mean the job is nearly finished and
 the nesting chamber is taking shape.

The whole process takes a couple of weeks, so it is little wonder that nesting burrows are often used again
the following year.


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