Joy and sadness of local Kingfishers

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Jacky Gray emailed about local kingfishers at Bingham Park in the Porter Valley. Indeed, the Porter Brook and millponds provide one of the best places to see kingfishers and in wintertime this is a favoured spot.

She said how much she enjoyed the weekly articles and especially the one about barn owls in North Derbyshire, but then went on to ask some questions. ‘For the last five weeks we have walked to Bingham Park to meet up with the beautiful kingfisher, flying and fishing on the pond by the water-wheel. However, there was no sighting last week or yesterday.

Then we had bad news as a friend told me that the bird was found dead on the pond about ten days ago. We are wondering if the severe cold weather plus winds and ice had something to do with this. We feel very sad, as it is like losing a pal! I wondered if you agreed.’

I suspect Jacky is correct. If we get a long hard freeze - as we just did, then water-bodies ice over and kingfishers can suffer. Young, inexperienced birds are perhaps unfamiliar with such conditions and unable to adapt - or else it might have been an older bird that simply succumbed.

Kingfishers can expect to live up to fifteen years but the average is about seven. However, young birds are very vulnerable and only about half survive to full adulthood.

She was also concerned to read that bird feeders could possibly be harmful to the birds themselves. As she said, ‘I live on the busy Riverdale Road, Ranmoor, opposite small copse and have feeders with sunflower hearts, bird mix, and peanuts but no mess. I have many beautiful goldfinches, bullfinches, nuthatches, blackbirds, tits, woodpeckers and more.

I would be really upset to know I was doing more harm than good!’ My comment was to not worry too much about the bird-feeder issue - the important thing is to provide a selection of appropriate feeders and keep them clean and the food fresh. I had two siskins on niger seed this weekend - which was good!

Professor Ian D. Rotherham, of Sheffield Hallam University, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues