Mythology, whether from India, Egypt or Greece or anywhere in the World Civilisations, has wonderful tales of animals.
People cursed to take animal forms, animals cursed to take plant forms and the like. How true is not the question here but how fascinating and connected to the description of these Myths around the creatures is the wonder here.
The bird here today is the White-throated Kingfisher – Halcyon smyrnensis. A member of the Kingfishers family of Alcedinidae. This particular Kingfisher, the White-throated Kingfisher, is unique in its own way. Being a Kingfisher, it naturally means that they prey on fish. Yes, this Kingfisher does prey on fish, only when opportunity favours.
Being a Kingfisher means, they need a water-body like a lake, river or pond to hunt fish. This Kingfisher, defies all these and is least dependent on water bodies. So what does the Kingfisher do for preying?
Evolution has solved this problem of Kingfisher by making it the most diverse feeding bird, being highly opportunistic in preying, it takes anything from baby birds to baby snakes; Skinks, Frogs, Toads, Scorpions, Lizards, Insects, Molluscs or whatever it can catch, batter and swallow. This habit of Kingfisher makes it least dependent on water bodies. It can stay miles away from any water source and live on preying whatever is available there to hunt. The most versatile feeding habit keeps the Kingfisher in all habitats including home gardens and parks. Living on the reptiles and other bird’s chicks in the area.
These birds, while being around water bodies, hunt fish by taking a strategic perch to over look the water and locate fish and plunge into the water and catch them. This is a sight to see them going deep into the water with their plunging and explode out of the water with a fish in their beak, to be battered on a nearby tree branch and swallowed.
The myth woven in Ancient Greek Civilisation is about its habit of plunging into the water. The myth goes like this:
In Taxonomical naming, this bird has the first Generic name as HALCYON, which is derivative of the word ‘Alcyone,’ daughter of Aeolus the King, who plunged into the sea seeing her husband Ceyx drowning, and upon not finding him, turned into a bird. Ever since, it is believed that Alcyone keeps plunging into the water to find her husband. This was first mentioned in town of SMYRNA in Ancient Turkey and the bird today is called Halcyon smyrnensis.
Whether true or not, the White-throated Kingfisher is a fascinating bird nesting on the river and canal mud banks, creating a tunnel and both male & female taking care of all domestic chores.
The bird has to be protected by protecting its habitat and nesting sites. Though not endangered in the list by IUCN, this bird still needs our concern and care to live along with us forever.
—Ragoo Rao, Ethologist
[Pics. by Star of Mysore photographer M.N. Lakshminarayana Yadav]