Like all kingfishers, the African Pygmy lays its eggs in a hole rather than build a nest. For some kingfisher species this hole is a tree cavity, but for this little gem of a bird it is a burrow. Weeks are spent excavating a tunnel into an embankment – quite often on a road cutting. The burrow is typically about half a metre in length, ending in a rounded chamber.
Earlier this week, local nurseryman Tim de Wet called me to say that he’d just seen one of these tiny kingfishers flying in front of his vehicle with something in its bill. This, Tim knew, was a sure sign of an active burrow.
A couple of days later, and I was on the scene with Tim to watch this glorious little kingfisher deliver two lizards to the burrow. One was an adult Cape Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus capensis) and the other a presumed juvenile Eastern Striped Skink (Trachylepis striata). Although the situation for observation was far from perfect, as the embankment was close to a junction where farm vehicles came and went, we noted that the little kingfisher followed a particular procedure: It approached the burrow from the south, then landed on the horizontal branch of a Pigeonwood sapling above the embankment. Once it was happy that the coast was clear, it flew down to land in the middle of the road right in front of the burrow which was barely 30cm off the ground. Here, it paused for a few seconds, before flying straight into the hole with its prey.
The African Pygmy Kingfisher lays between 3 and 6 pearly-white eggs, with 4 being the usual number. Incubation is 18 days with nestlings being fed for a similar period before fledging.
Schagen (west of Nelspruit), Mpumalanga, South Africa