The other day, I had an extraordinary encounter with a bird. I opened the front door early in the morning to go out and feed the hens and, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something bright blue in the shade of a potted plant on the doorstep.
I reached down to pick it up, thinking at first that it was a piece of litter that had blown in, and discovered that it was a kingfisher. It was sitting on the step, apparently asleep, with its eyes closed and its long beak resting on its breast.
Kingfishers don’t normally sleep on people’s doorsteps and, although I’ve sometimes seen them hunting small fish and tadpoles along field drains, I live several kilometres from any regular kingfisher habitat so I was very surprised.
I bent down and picked up the bird, at which it seemed to wake up and made some half-hearted attempts to peck my fingers. After that I hadn’t a clue what to do.
I jumped to the conclusion that it was a juvenile bird that had become separated from its parents and, because it takes young kingfishers quite a long time to learn to catch their own fish, it might be starving to death.
So I improvised a rudimentary bird cage out of a large plastic flower pot and some wire mesh, put the bird into it and opened a tin of tuna, which was the only fish I could find in the house.
When I dangled bits of fish in front of its beak I got no feeding response and, when I looked at it more closely and checked a few reference books I decided that it was an adult male and not a juvenile.
I had been fooled into thinking it wasn’t fully fledged by the fact that it had no tail … but, of course even adult kingfishers have no tails.
The bird now seemed quite alert and to be recovering rapidly from whatever was wrong with it, which could possibly have been concussion.
So I put my improvised cage into the car and drove to a part of the canal that’s popular with kingfishers. When I released it, it sat quietly on the bank at my feet for a minute or so and I gently stroked its back with my finger. It didn’t much like this and took off with a whirring of wings to land about 3m away on an ash twig overhanging the water.
I sat down to watch. The bird was alert, perched with its head to the breeze and looking around. Then it started to preen itself. It seemed to be recovering rapidly.
I watched it for about 15 minutes, during which time it didn’t leave its perch.
Then it started to rain and I had no jacket so I left.
The mystery of what had happened to it and how it ended up on my doorstep has been tantalising me ever since.
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