Unique Orphan Lands at the SPCA

By Barbara Haney, Director of the Wildlife Department

On June 25, the SPCA’s Wildlife Department had a rare animal come in, a nestling Belted Kingfisher. We have had a handful of adult Belted Kingfishers admitted to our hospital, but we’d never had an orphaned nestling. This little gal was found in Springville. We knew she was a female because Kingfishers are sexually dimorphic, which means that the males and females look different from one another. In most birds that are sexually dimorphic, the male bird is more colorful than the female, but in the Kingfisher’s case the female has an extra band of rust color on her white underside.

Kingfishers are stocky birds, about robin-sized, and they have large heads and a shaggy crest on the top and back of the head and a straight, thick, pointed bill. They love to perch on the edge of waterways, creeks, streams, and lakes where they eat small fish by plunging into the water or hovering over the water and then plunging in after they catch sight of fish. They have a distinct cackling rattle call that our little lady exhibited from day one.

It has been a joy observing this Kingfisher mature before our very eyes. We kept her in an incubator the first few days and fed her smelt with calcium and vitamin B supplements every 45 to 60 minutes. Then we moved her to an outdoor enclosure and simulated what nature will eventually provide for her. Kingfishers make burrows in dirt near the edges of waterways, so we made hiding places for her. We introduced live minnows and mealworms while we continued to feed her smelt like her parents would every hour.

Later, we added higher perches to her aviary with makeshift ponds of live fish. We were still feeding her smelt by hand and we’d splash it in the water with hopes that she’d find her instinct to hunt. Our Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. Karen Slote had been in contact with specialized wildlife veterinarians about this sensitive species, as we are always continuing our efforts to collaborate and learn in a concerted effort to return healthy wild animals back to their ecosystems! And in this case, we did it!! The Kingfisher was released July 31 by our Wildlife Veterinary Technician Jimmy!

We were completely awestruck by this very rare opportunity to watch the development of this rare species and, as always, the Wildlife Department continues to learn and pave the way in wildlife medicine, wildlife husbandry, and compassionate care for our wild friends!