Belted Kingfishers And A Poorly Understood Example Of Sexual Dimorphism

This female Belted Kingfisher continues to taunt me.

 

belted-kingfisher-6739-ron-dudley

1/4000, f/7.1, ISO 320, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

She appears regularly at a local pond near my home but great photos of her continue to elude me. She allows me close but her favorite fishing perch is high in a tree and cluttered with branches. And on those occasions when she successfully dives on a fish she always hauls it across the pond to a faraway tree before knocking it senseless on a branch and then gulping it down.

This composition includes lots of blurry branches on the right so I…

 

 

belted-kingfisher-6932-ron-dudley

1/4000, f/6.3, ISO 320, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

actually prefer a vertical crop that gets rid of most of them.

 

In sexually dimorphic bird species males are nearly always more colorful than females. In the few exceptions to that rule there’s a reversal of sex roles where the males tend to the nest instead of the females – phalaropes are one example of that. But in sexually dimorphic Belted Kingfishers the bright rusty-red belt across the lower breast of the female makes her more colorful than the male who lacks it but there’s no sex role reversal. What’s going on?

It may be explained in combination with yet another quirky trait of the species. Belted Kingfishers are highly territorial and the males often (though not always) remain on their territories year-round so they don’t give up prime nesting territory and have to compete for it again in the spring. The females, on the other hand, migrate south for the winter.

So one theory suggests the female is more colorful as a visual signal to a resident male that he should welcome a returning kingfisher with a rusty-red belt in the spring instead of chasing her off. But researchers admit they don’t know that for sure and suggest further research is needed.

Whatever the explanation “my” female will likely be gone soon so I’ll probably be making many more trips down the hill to the pond before she departs.

Ron

Note: I should make it clear that female kingfishers in regions that are less cold often don’t migrate.

Interpreting Sage Grouse Breeding Behaviors On The Lek

I’ve come across an excellent resource for explaining Sage Grouse lek behaviors and I simply had to share.

Most of us have seen photos and watched videos of Sage Grouse displaying on their lek (a display ground where courtship behaviors occur). And some have even been lucky enough to visit a lek in the early morning and watch these amazing behaviors but few of us understand what we’ve seen.

Some examples:

 

sage-grouse-3861-ron-dudley

1/640, f/6.3, ISO 1600, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Why do the males wrap their wings around their inflated throat pouches and rub them together?

 

 

sage-grouse-4385-ron-dudley

1/1250, f/7.1, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

What could the function be of those ridiculous-looking bulges that pop out momentarily during the display?

 

 

sage-grouse-3820-ron-dudley

1/800, f/6.3, ISO 1600, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Why does he heave that inflated pouch upward until it often completely engulfs his head…

 

 

sage-grouse-3823-ron-dudley

1/800, f/6.3, ISO 1600, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

and then drop it back down in a big “plop”?

 

 

sage-grouse-3525-ron-dudley

1/800, f/6.3, ISO 2000, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

How are the females (there’s one here in the background carefully watching the male) judging the performances of the males in their attempts to decide which one they will mate with?

 

 

sage-grouse-3798c-ron-dudley

1/2000, f/5.6, ISO 4000, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Why do the males often fight so viciously?

These and many other questions are answered in four short video clips (averaging just over 2 minutes each) recently made available by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Each is brilliantly done and both the quality of the videos and their narration are excellent. If you have any interest in or curiosity about Sage Grouse behaviors I highly recommend that you watch each of them, preferably in the order I’ve presented them because they build on each other.

The Male Display

Female Connoisseurs

It’s My Turf

Elite Males

 

Kudos to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology! I’m delighted to see high quality documentary scientific resources meant for public consumption that aren’t overly dramatic and sensationalized in their presentation and narration. I believe that deplorable trend originated with cable TV and it has pretty much engulfed the entire documentary industry – even some of the previously well-respected big players in the field have been seduced by it and I’m extremely disappointed by that trend. To me it’s just another example of the “dumbing down” of America.

Sorry for the editorializing but I thought it had to be said…

Thanks, Cornell – you resisted!

Ron

Note: Each of these images was taken on a lek in Wayne County, Utah in late March of 2015.