A Kingfisher And….. A Cop

After so many kingfisher posts recently it was my intention to post a different species today. However, events of yesterday warranted otherwise. Those events include “my” male Belted Kingfisher being cooperative again, several fascinating kingfisher behaviors and an unexpected and potentially very unpleasant encounter with a local cop.


1/6400, f/7.1, ISO 640, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Yesterday I couldn’t believe my luck when “my” male Belted Kingfisher showed up in his favorite fishing tree less than a minute after I had situated myself in my pickup to get a good angle on him. Readers may be interested in knowing that this time I used a different strategy so I wouldn’t put so much stress on my bad back to get that angle on him and it worked, resulting in no additional damage to my back muscles and nerves. Within a short time he even chose another close and exposed perch and posed for me for a while before turning his back on me and resuming his fishing activities.

Then the first bit of excitement. Suddenly a second, very angry kingfisher flew in (possibly a female because I thought I saw a quick flash of red) and after a brief but intense and very loud session of aerial combat one bird chased the other one off and I wondered if either would return. About 10 minutes later the male did come back, apparently as the victor.

After I got home I did a bit of research. According to Birds of North America Online non-migratory males (many of our male kingfishers do not migrate) aggressively defend their fishing territory during the non-breeding season. I’m thinking that’s what happened in this case.



Some time later I photographed some quirky behavior that confused me at first, both as a photographer and as someone interested in bird behaviors. Many of my photos documenting it are of very poor quality because of the distance involved, the unexpected direction of flight the kingfisher took and the fact that my focus points grabbed onto obstructions in front of the bird. This resulted in a very soft and/or cut off kingfisher but I still think some of the photos document the behavior.

Here the kingfisher is gobbling down a fish (another weather loach) on his favorite feeding platform. He was far away and he had his back to me so my greatest interest in him at this point was trying to get takeoff and flight shots as he returned to one of his several overhead fishing branches. Keep in mind that this perch is less than 2′ above the water.



He turned on the perch which possibly gave me a great angle on him as he took off toward one of those branches far above him. But he fooled both me and my camera by…



plunging almost straight down into the water. There were other branches in the water that obstructed my view of what he was doing down there but I assumed he’d gone after a fish he’d spotted, even though I’d never seen him fish from there before. That seemed logical because this very low perch would provide him a poor angle to scan much of the water effectively for fish.



In about two seconds he returned to the same perch (without a fish)…



and a few seconds later he did the same thing again – here he’s returning to the low perch a second time.



Then he did it a third time. When kingfishers dive after fish I’ve estimated that they only spend about 1 second in the water but each of these 3 times he spent slightly more time than that in the water – perhaps just over 2 seconds. At this point I figured something else might be going on and I wondered if it might be a unique form of kingfisher bathing.



It turns out that’s exactly what he was doing. After the third dive (and not after the first two) he spent several minutes shaking water off his feathers and preening on the perch.



He spent an inordinate amount of time trying to reach his belly and breast feathers with that long bill.

Research after I got home confirmed that many kingfisher species bathe by first repeatedly diving into the water and then preening and sunning on a convenient perch. This was the first time I’d ever seen a kingfisher bathe so at first I was a little confused by his slightly unconventional methodology. I guess I had just assumed that kingfishers accomplish effective bathing each time they dive for a fish but come to think of it I’ve often seen them come out of the water with muddy bills and/or pond scum clinging to them.


I didn’t know it at the time but soon after these photos were taken my kingfisher photography was doomed for the day by an event that scared off my bird. I had my lens sticking out the passenger window of my pickup when a local Murray City police officer stuck his head in my already open driver’s side window and asked me what I was doing.

It turns out that someone in the neighborhood had reported me for “taking pictures of children playing in the nearby park with my big lens”. After a brief (but tense on my part) conversation that included me explaining what I was doing, giving him one of my bird photography business cards, showing him one of my kingfisher photos on the screen of my camera and him taking my driver’s license so he could go back to his squad car and run me for warrants he wished me a good day and went on his way.

I very much appreciated the fact that he was professional, courteous and eventually even friendly. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to read his assumed name tag so I could mention his name here and congratulate him publicly for the completely professional and appropriate way he handled the situation. And I hold no grudges against the neighbor who reported me (I’d met two of the neighbors previously and one of them even came out front to support me while the officer was there). In these days of pervasive perverts and psychopathic sickos I’m afraid we must be extra vigilant, especially with our children.

I just wish that all such encounters between police officers and innocent citizens turned out so well. And I’m confident that most cops feel the same way (I know how I feel as a retired teacher whenever I hear about a teacher who has taken unprofessional, immoral and/or illegal advantage of his or her position of authority over a student).




52 comments to A Kingfisher And….. A Cop

  • Dan had an experience a long time ago (dealing with a cop then was so much less scary, though) wherein a screech-owl helped him “avoid arrest”.

    It was an early morning Christmas Count and the group was out behind the local community college and he had a couple of companions with him. They were looking for screech-owls on the edge of the woods behind the college. As they were slowing moving along the wooded edge, they saw a car approaching across the wide parking area, coming closer. When it reached them, they saw that it was a county sheriff’s car. The officer got out and walked over to them and asked what they were doing out there at 4:30am. Dan told him they were looking for owls, screech-owls in particular. It was obvious to the birders that he didn’t believe them, so Dan started calling for screech-owls. Thankfully, one answered! He called again and again the owl responded. It was coming closer… Once again he called and the owl was closer yet…Dan shined the flashlight up into the trees near when the owl had been heard, and sure enough: there it sat!

    The officer then shrugged and walked away, back to his patrol car. He had his window down and they could hear him speak as he radioed in: “About the folks up by LCC? They really ARE looking for owls!”

  • Charlotte Norton

    Wonderful series Ron!
    LOL I guess we all have our run-ins with the law. I was stopped not once but twice for suspicion of being a pedafile . I explained both times that I was taking bird pictures of a bluebird house which was near a playground. I was lucky though, a dear friend of mine was friends with the Park Director and she told her she had known me for over 30 years and could guarantee I was not a pedafile. I guess us birders are just a suspicious looking lot.


  • Marty K

    I know Mr. K. will be back for you soon, perhaps asking, “Who *was* that guy?” 😉 I absolutely love learning all this cool stuff about their behaviors!

    Glad your other encounter was smooth, albeit nerve-wracking. ‘This a shame these are the times in which we live. My oddest law enforcement experience came many years ago on a Saturday as I was sitting at my desk in my classroom grading lab reports. There was a knock on my door’s window with the butt of a gun held by a school district security officer. I damn near fell off my stool. Turns out my principal had forgotten to turn off the alarm to my building, even though we had walked in from the parking lot together. I started bringing stuff home to grade after that. 😉

    • “as I was sitting at my desk in my classroom grading lab reports”

      Boy, does that ever bring back memories, Marty. I always hated grading papers – one of the few things I disliked about teaching. But put me in front of a classroom full of students and I was in my element.

      • Dick Harlow

        Me too, especially Term Papers, but I became more intense about it when I caught a student flagrantly plagiarizing. He even cut stuff( (actually used scissors) out of a library book as well.

      • Marty K

        Grading is my least favorite part too. Lots of reasons for that, not the least of which is catching my students cheating or plagiarizing. The culture of grades over understanding/learning has really put a damper in things for me. The kids are so nonchalant about it too — what, you actually read our papers???

        • Laura Culley

          Grading (college) freshman history papers while in Grad School really shocked me. I kept wondering how these students (for lack of a better term) were allowed out of middle school, for pity’s sake! For that matter, I wondered how some of them actually got INTO middle school. Their inability to string words into a sentence (let alone a coherent thought) made my head hurt! And the inability for most of them to show up in class (where all the answers to the tests were presented), to figure out the test preparation sheets (where all the answers to the tests were presented again) or to read the syllabus with comprehension (where all the directions for success in that class were deftly hidden) blew me away! Given that, I’m not all that surprised we’re in the pickle we’re in right now. They don’t have a clue how this country works and they’re easily led since critical thinking is not something they’re likely to do anytime soon. Thankfully, I’m old now so I shouldn’t have to make too many more McDonald’s orders understood.

  • WHAT a day. Good and bad, what a day. I am so very glad that the positives outweighed the negatives, but…
    And love that you too are learning in the field. And teaching us.
    And hope that the police person (and his department) see today’s post.

  • Patty Chadwick

    A falconer friend of mine had a very unnerving experience right after 9-11 while “prowling” a neighborhood with telemetry, looking for one of his birds… And has had quite a few unsettling situations since. Jim’s “finder” looks like a combination of a cross-bow and to some, apparently, a gun. I worry for him. There are a lot of crackpots out there! Folks who might shoot first, ask questions later…..

    • Patty, Laura mentions a similar situation below. Apparently it isn’t all that uncommon.

    • Laura Culley

      I worry about that, too, Patty! Especially after my friends’ experience in the Denver suburb. They were terrified on their knees with loaded guns pointed at them. And you’re right. Telemetry receivers–well the ones that most falconers can afford–look like a nefarious weapon to some folks, and since fear is rampant these days, people jump to conclusions. Thankfully, I don’t have to use it often. That’s one good reason I don’t fly a longwing/falcon or a goshawk. Telemetry chases are far more frequent with those birds.

  • Susan Stone

    Ron, I think I’m in love. This Kingfisher is so handsome! I love being able to learn about their behaviors, too. Glad to know the cop encounter turned out okay – those things put a definite dent in one’s day.

  • Carol Vavra

    Great job with the photos Ron! I can never see enough Kingfishers. And I’m sure the police officer will be subscribing to your blog – once he finishes his investigation he’ll be a fan! Your pictures give everyone a few minutes of beauty and levity during the day.

  • I’m actually glad the unsuspecting neighbor called it in. Sad that it has to happen but better safe than sorry these days. And I’m glad it all turned out well. 😀 Except for that second kingfisher who had to go hunt down breakfast elsewhere!

  • Jack Cowan

    I’m a birder and I’ve had a few experiences over the years with police officers. The most interesting was an encounter with a Missouri State Highway Trooper a few years ago in mid-Missouri when I was trying to see an out-of-range roadrunner. Ever try to explain to a cop that you’re looking for a bird that he thinks exists only on Saturday morning cartoons? Luckily, I had a field guide with me to prove to him that roadrunners are real and a copy of the directions I had downloaded from the Missouri bird listserve.

    • “Ever try to explain to a cop that you’re looking for a bird that he thinks exists only on Saturday morning cartoons?”

      Jack, that story had me guffawing! It truly did. I can only imagine…

  • Patty Chadwick

    I still have a bad impression of cops in general…don’t even know what the “gore” line is…At least you got some interesting behavior shots of an elusive bird. How sad that the hypervigilant parent has to worry about a bird photographer! I used to let my kids run free, in all kinds of places, with only the warning of being back in time for dinner or chores. They didn’t have bad experiences, just the joy of freedodom. So many things have changed….

    • “don’t even know what the “gore” line is”

      Patty, read my response to Laura’s question below.

      And you’re right, it’s a different world we live in now. Sadly…

  • Alice Beckcom

    Very interesting photos of the Kingfisher bathing. Glad things worked out well with the cop.

  • Laura Culley

    OK, what IS a gore line?
    That you had a POed Kingfisher after the cop’s visit goes to prove that the Kingfisher has grown to trust YOU but not the cop who has NOT earned the right to be there. You might have to do a little more trust building after this, but he should trust you again.
    Now, back to the subject at hand. What a glorious series, both the individual photos (including the technically imperfect shots) AND the behavioral insights. Once again, I’m good for the day having learned several new things this morning and there are lovely images stuck in my mind! I love the crest-up shots and the crest-down shots, and the new knowledge on how they bathe! Thank you for that (almost) every morning.
    I’m also delighted to read that your back pain has lessened. I get back pain occasionally, and with that, I KNOW it’s not something I want to deal with on a regular basis. It mostly sucks!
    As for the encounter with the police, those encounters have become something to fear. That didn’t used to be the case! I try to avoid interacting with the various constabularies in the first place just for that reason. I could do something wrong, simply because I can be an idiot sometimes, and end up dead or wounded. I’d hate to be black or from countries outside the U.S. That’s now a recipe for BIG disasters!
    The one vulnerability I have to that idea is if/when one of my birds is lost and I have to get the telemetry receiver out to look for him/her. People miss-see it as either a weird gun or some other threatening device. You’d think the antenna structure would give them a clue, but even if they do cop a clue, they’re CERTAIN that I’m using it in some sort of nefarious way. And then, there are the people who object to falconry, and they’re a whole different breed of human.
    Luckily, Jack, Mariah and Skye don’t get lost often–maybe once every five years–and they’re always down somewhere out of my sight with a tasty critter treat. Jack really got lost once when he caught his rabbit inside a tall pile of railroad ties that were so tightly spaced that he couldn’t possibly get in there. The physics of that just didn’t work, but there he was, with his rabbit! It took a while to find him and we probably walked past that pile a couple of dozen times before we looked in there.
    I generally leave the receiver in the Jeep. Friends of mine were ordered to get on their knees (with their guns drawn) in the field when the local police checked into what they were doing in a suburb of Denver. I hope to avoid that kind of stress.

    • Laura, the gore lines are the solid white lines on the freeway that separate a freeway entrance lane from the main lanes of the freeway. Only when the solid line turns from solid to striped (or disappears completely) can you legally cross it.

      I’d never thought about the possibility that cops (or reporting citizens or both) might think that a falconers telemetry receiver might be perceived as some kind of weapon. It’s a scary and sometimes paranoid world we live in these days…

  • Nicole


    • Yup… And I’m far from the only bird photographer who has had somewhat similar incidents, Nicole. Here’s what Facebook friend Mike Kelly said happened to him:

      “i had an incident where i was shooting avocets in a slough just of the freeway and someone called the police about a guy with a gun, they sent a car to where i was parked safely off the side ofg the freeway and one to the other side of the slough as well as a helicopter, being that i was close to the airport they had to shut down the airport because of the helicopter”

  • Lucky for you you’re white because otherwise you might be dead.

  • jake schas

    Ron, I have only had nice and professional interactions with law enforcement. Even with some of my more interesting parking maneuvers.
    Mostly great interactions with people. Dogs on the other hand are a different story. It seems the littler the critter the worse the attack.
    I carry some 8×10’s and many post cards of my photos. I show them and hand out the items to the public or law enforcement. Donuts may be good thing to carry on some days.
    Christmas bird counts is where as a group we have the most confrontations. After a brief conversation, we add people to the count group.

    • Jake, I’m afraid donuts wouldn’t last long in my pickup with me in it!

      Possible situations like this one are one of the reasons I always keep a stash of my business cards in the pickup with me.

      I’ve only had one unpleasant interaction with a cop in 55 years of driving. He gave me a ticket (one of only two moving violations I’ve ever had, the other one was for speeding back in 1973 when the national speed limit was 55) for “crossing over the gore line”. I’ll bet many drivers don’t even know what the gore line is…

      That cop (a Utah Highway Patrol officer) was nasty and unpleasant for no reason at all. It left me with a bad impression of cops for a very long time, warranted or not.

  • Dick Harlow

    I think the male Kingfisher is used to you and when there is no other distraction will do what he does when he feels the urge. I think you are extremely blessed to have that interaction between your lens and subject!

    Interesting interaction with the cop. I have had the same type of interaction when scoping birds with a scope/binoculars. So far they have all been professional! I agree we all need to watch out for our kids!

    • “I think you are extremely blessed to have that interaction between your lens and subject”

      I agree, Dick. I did work very hard for a long time to gain the confidence of the bird though. I just hope the incident with the officer didn’t undo all my efforts with the kingfisher. He was a pissed off bird when the cop showed up and got out of his squad car.

  • Neat observations Ron. I am excited to see that the Kingfisher’s behavior may appear to be getting used to your truck in the area. Makes sense. Also interesting about the bathing behavior.

    I am glad the police officer was professional and all worked out well in that situation. I would hope though of there being more concrete evidence of “photographing children playing in the park…” before reporting to the police. Sad for someone to assume the worst with no evidence… Fear driven behavior…

    Once when I was walking with my 600mm lens in a field I had a woman come up to me screaming “you cannot have that thing here!”. She thought the camera was a gun.

    • “She thought the camera was a gun.”

      Geez, Ed – the absolute ignorance of some folks is truly hard to believe. Especially considering her loud accusations.

      And I agree with what you said. If the person who reported me had truly been observant they would have known that I wasn’t aiming my long lens in the direction of children who were occasionally playing in the park.

      • Your post today has some irony to it Ron. For me, I quickly veer away from reading the news each day, as it is so depressing,and instead go read your blog, since it educates me and gives me positive thoughts for the rest of the day. I will think about the bathing kingfisher and whether or not the kingfisher will actually become used to your specific vehicle over time (likely)…. instead of thinking about the homo sapien behaviors — that species is predictable and boring at this point 😉

        • Ed, personally I think there’s no question that he has become acclimated to my specific vehicle being parked where it is. The sudden presence of the cop is another story though…

          I very seldom watch news on TV anymore. When I get my news online I can pick and choose what I read.

  • Judy Gusick

    Wonderful sequence, Ron.:) Even if not all are “up to snuff” they document behaviors well. I never thought about them “bathing” as a separate activity from fishing! Glad you found a position to protect your back some! Most cops out there are professional and pleasant to deal with even if the encounter can be nerve wracking for us – and for them also! Folks certainly have to be watchful these days with all the creeps out and about. They’ve always been there but, in more stable communities of old, everyone knew who they were – not the case now!

    • “They’ve always been there but, in more stable communities of old, everyone knew who they were – not the case now!”

      Very, very good point, Judy!

  • Sheila

    Magical! Thank you Ron for taking me on your photography session. You are truly a master.

  • Superb photos of the kingfisher! If the cop has any appreciation for nature photography, you may have gained a follower! 🙂

  • The word “sad” has lately developed some new associations, but is still appropriate for this kind of hypervigilance, whether or not it’s actually warranted…….I’m imagining a scenario in the
    local police precinct office, where a bunch of cops are gathered around admiring one of your Kingfisher prints displayed in their wall—a “most wanted” poster of the best kind !

    • “a “most wanted” poster of the best kind !”

      That made me smile, Kris – the first one I’ve had associated with my encounter with the cop. In this case if they asked for a photo for that purpose I’d certainly give them one!

  • Thanks for this series of kingfisher photos. And I’m sorry that the world is such that neighbors feel a need to be hyper-vigilant (if not always on target) and police need to follow up on such complaints, knowing that some of them may yield important information about predators of the non-feathered variety.

    I must say, I’d pity the poor policeman assigned to review all your photos, knowing the vast archive of bird photos you have amassed.

    Here’s to a safer world and fewer false leads.

    • “Here’s to a safer world and fewer false leads.”

      If only that were true, Alison.

      The officer kept my business card that has my blog address on it so maybe he’ll get a chance to “review all my photos”… 🙂