We spent a very happy day last Thursday at Swanwick Lakes nature reserve playing at the edge of the water. This of course was made all the better with the t-shirt weather that we had. The aim was to build a kingfisher nesting cliff to entice them to stay on site all year.
Kingfishers generally nest in river banks and excavate nests out of loose soil, digging a long tunnel with a chamber at the end. I don’t think anybody who has seen a kingfisher would expect this of them and it does seem like a strange thing for a bird to do. It is however a good strategy as the small cliffs at the side of the river tend to drop straight into water and so are very tricky for predators such as stoats to access. I’ve also seen them nesting in the root bases of fallen tree. These often form pools where the root base has been ripped out of the ground and so creates a perfect little spot for them to nest.
A lot of sites have Kingfishers in late summer and through the winter but don’t have them in the spring and early summer. This is generally because of the lack of suitable banks in which they can nest. The late summer individuals will be the first brood which are then self sufficient and then all of them rove around a bit in the winter. You get a number along the coast as well, especially in cold times when fresh water is frozen over.
So if you have a site ‘sans bank’, you have to help them out a little bit if you want them to stay all year and everybody likes a Kingfisher so many reserve officers take on the challenge of enticing them in. Enter the fake Kingfisher cliff.
This is how we went about it.
Step 1. Find a suitable spot. This is on the edge of a lake with a some deepish water in front of it, preferably with a bit of a bank already. We found a good spot on toms lake.
Step 2. Dive in two stakes on the edge of the bank. You then clad the front with boards. You also need to box in the sides.
Step 3. Back fill with soil. This builds up the bank behind it. It’s good to have a team of volunteers/minions to do this
Step 4. Place the nest box. Once you have the soil high enough (the entrance hole needs to be a metre or so above the water) you then need to place the box at a slight angle, so the box is a tiny bit higher. You also need to line the bottom of the box with clay or soil so its a bit more natural.
Step 5. Cover with soil. This surrounds the box and you want a good layer over the top. You can leave this loose so you can access the box to clean it out.
Step 6. Fill the tunnel section with loose sand/soil. The Kingfishers like to excavate a little themselves.
Step 7. Clad the front with clay. This makes it look more natural (we haven’t done this yet).
Step 8. Sit back and watch the Kingfishers flock in.
Hopefully step 8 will be the case but they are tricky little things. I’ve seen boxes on other sites used but in other places they aren’t touched. There has been one at Swanwick for a few years now but has never had any success. It may be a number of reasons but we intend to put three up in total to maximise our chances of success. Hopefully one will look attractive.