Rare rescue offers glimpse into secret life of kingfishers

BORN FREE: These kingfishers have been in the care of WIRES. They now have some feathers and will be ready to fly soon.
BORN FREE: These kingfishers have been in the care of WIRES. They now have some feathers and will be ready to fly soon. Contributed by Mel Barsony

RESCUING four pink and featherless newborn kingfisher chicks is pretty rare, even by WIRES standards, despite the wildlife rescue service tending all manner of sick and injured birds.

Carer Lib Ruytenberg said unlike their kookaburra cousins, kingfishers rarely came into human care.

The darting little birds like to hang about rainforest waterways, staying out of sight of bigger animals - especially humans.

"These little guys are very secretive," Ms Ruytenberg said.

WIRES is looking for volunteer bird carers. The next basic training session will be on June 14-15.

"It's rewarding for humans to even catch a glimpse of them because they move so quickly and furtively through the bush.

"It is very unusual for us to have four in care, especially four that are raised all the way through to release stage."

The siblings were found in a termite mound in Alstonville six weeks ago.

It was a good place for their missing parents to raise the demanding young chicks, given the plentiful ants would have made a valuable source of protein.

"They would have decided to build their nest right in the restaurant," Ms Ruytenberg said.

The kingfisher chicks when they were first rescued.
The kingfisher chicks when they were first rescued. Contributed by Kylie Trueman

It wasn't until three weeks after they came into care that WIRES worked out they were sacred kingfishers, one of two varieties of the bird, the other one being the slightly rarer azure kingfisher.

"It takes two or three weeks for a little thing like that for the feathers to come through before you can tell what they are," Ms Ruytenberg said.

"Once the plumage came through we were able to tell they were sacred kingfishers."

Kingfishers might be secretive, but quiet these babies were not.

Carers had to endure the incredible screeching of the ravenous little babes as they cried out for food.

Thankfully it didn't last too long. After six weeks the foursome reached the stage where they were picking up their own food in the aviary.

Soon the adolescent birds will be released in the rainforests west of Mullumbimby, 40km from where they were found.

"When you raise something completely from scratch, it doesn't have to be released at the same point it was found because it doesn't have to meet up with its family," Ms Ruytenberg said.


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