With 2020 over and gone, the human population is now looking forward to a New Year.
A year that may bring a lifting of fear and anxiety over this reigning COVID-19 virus with a vaccine that might put this pandemic behind us.
The new year hopefully brings some changes in protections for the natural world as well.
The ongoing net loss of habitat is a huge issue as thousands of acres of wildlife habitat are being wiped out by fires, floods, drought, housing development and Ag projects.
Wildlife habitat is critical for all wildlife species that we share this county with.
Balanced native habitat is comprised of a healthy native plant community which provides thermal cover both from the heat of summer and during the cold of winter.
These plant communities also provide forage base for herbivores and omnivores like deer, moose and mice along with many bird species and large numbers of valuable insects such as pollinators, beneficial predators and burrowing insects that keep the living soils going.
The availability of clean surface water is crucial to all functioning wildlife habitat. There are those species that have very precise habitat requirements in order to live and survive.
For some it is a specific plant species, soil type, slope gradient, forest type, canopy cover percentage, elevation or ambient air temps.
All these niche requirements often spell doom for species when attempting to co-habitat with humans.
Those wildlife species that are generalists, can survive in a broad range of habitats and can adapt to all kinds of situations do the best when living around us.
One species that requires ample habitat and cover, clean surface water and healthy riparian buffers is the belted kingfisher.
This native bird is an indicator of healthy waters and streams.
Many people have no doubt heard them rattling their loud call along rivers, streams or Bennington Lake.
This is a bird with beautiful eye-popping blues, rufous and crisp clean white with a double-blue crest atop a head that also supports a massive long stout bill.
The kingfisher’s bill is the tool that allows this chunky bird to survive.
This is where the physiology of this species gets interesting. This 13-inch-long bird has some amazing abilities.
One is its eye sight — it can see under water and search for fish, amphibians, small snakes and crustaceans while on the wing hovering over the water from about 15 feet.
Its round, broad wings are used to create a platform by changing pitch, allowing this long-billed bird the ability to sit or hover over a prey species and determine its size, direction of movement and depth in the water.
Then, after fine tuning all that information, the kingfisher plunge-dives bill-first into the stream, and at the last moment opens its bill and grabs the small fish or tadpole.
It then puts its wings out, stopping its arrow-like motion into the water and bobs quickly to the surface, where it gives a powerful flap off the water and into the air with its prey item held in it beak still flopping and wriggling.
The kingfisher then heads for the nearest perch and lands.
It then raises its beak with the prey in it and brings the head of the fish down on the hard surface of the perch.
Two or three of these hammering blows kills the prey item and the kingfisher swallows it whole.
Belted kingfishers are not sociable birds, and will not put up with any other kingfishers in their hunting territories.
They nest in cavities in earthen banks and hatch out up to five young.
Belted kingfishers are not migratory and hunt their territories year around.
In winter, should standing waters freeze over, they simply fly out to bigger rivers that are flowing and hunt there.
These are a protected species and are one of three kingfisher species located in North America.
Remember, life is good!