Two members of the kingfisher family occur in New Zealand, the introduced Australian kookaburra, which has a very restricted range in the northern part of the North Island, and the widely distributed native kingfisher or kotare of the Maoris. The New Zealand bird, Halcyon sancta vagans, is the local race of a species that occurs from New Zealand to Australia, New Guinea, Eastern Indonesia, the Solomon Islands, and New Caledonia, and it differs from the other local races (or subspecies) in minor characteristics, such as bill size, intensity of the colour of the plumage, and so on.
Kingfishers are to be found on and about the three main islands and the Kermadecs, but not on the Chathams or the sub-Antarctic islands. Their habitat is open country or forest edge and they are common near lakes, rivers, estuaries, and the sea. European settlement has benefited the species by incidentally supplying it with a greater variety of food than it originally enjoyed, with more extensive feeding areas and a greater choice of nesting sites.
Diet varies with locality; kingfishers living near the coast eat a considerable quantity of crabs from mud flats, and shrimps and small fish from pools. Away from the sea the diet consists of worms, insects, lizards, and freshwater fish. In both places fruits, small birds, and mice are taken when the opportunity arises.
Nests are made in cavities dug in rotting trees or clay banks and a clutch consists of four to five white eggs. The most characteristic call is a staccato “kek, kek, kek, kek”. During the breeding season a bubbling “kree, kree” is heard. Both sexes are alike in appearance, being deep green and ultra-marine above, buff below, with a broad buff collar. The black bill is large and powerful.
by Gordon Roy Williams, B.SC.(HONS.)(SYDNEY), Lecturer in Agricultural Zoology, Lincoln Agricultural College.