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Birds of Egypt: The Collared Kingfisher, “Fairuz”

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This bright little beauty is what a cheap firework dreams of being when it grows up. “Fairuz,” or, as this word is translated into English, “Turquoise,” is this gorgeous bird’s name in Egypt. He is a Collared Kingfisher, or Todiramphus chloris humii, belonging to the family Halcyonidae, the Tree Kingfishers. They have a wide range extending from the Egyptian Delta to the Red Sea, across to southern Asia and Australasia to Polynesia.

Outstanding fishers, Collared Kingfishers dive for their prey from high in the air. They often hang out around the canals lining two sides of our property here in Egypt, and I love to watch them hunting for prey, perched above the water. Soon the moment is right and they flash like the blue flame of a match being thrown into the water. I swear the water sizzles instead of splashes as they dive, spearing or catching the little fish with their long, sharp beaks.

Mr. Fairuz sounds just like a screeching firework blasting across the sky, a high-pitched, fast paced EE-EE-EE-EE-EE-EE-EE-EE that can carry on until he passes out of earshot, or explode in a short burst above you as he jumps from tree to tree. He sounds like he’s got a pinwheel installed in his voice box, chopping his screech into mechanically measured beats. Even more fascinating, he sometimes winds up his screeching, slowly as the pinwheel turns in a light breeze, and picking up speed as his engines warm up. Then he flashes through the sky in an amazing burst of bright blue feathers and screeching fit for the jungle.

This screeching really heats up as mating season approaches, and the sky resounds all day long like a roman candle competition. Collared Kingfishers prepare their nest in natural tree holes or burrows excavated by the birds themselves in rotten trees, termite mounds or an earthen bank of a canal like the ones beside our home. Twice a year, Mrs. Fairuz lays between two and seven rounded whitish eggs directly on the floor of their burrow with no nest material. Then the noisy screeching abates, finally! Both Mr. and Mrs. Fairuz share in quietly incubating the eggs and then take turns feeding their chicks, who will leave the nest after about 44 days after hatching, ready to screech and blaze through the sky with joy.

But during the tranquil time of domestic nesting, I often hear Mr. Fairuz calling softly in the early dawn hours, from his perch on a tree limb overhanging the little canal outside our bedroom window. Softly, quietly, like a high-pitched purring, “eeee,ee,ee,ee,ee,ee,ee,ee,eeee,” “eeee,ee,ee,ee,ee,ee,ee,eeee,” over and over as a leisurely little song welcoming the sun’s early rays. He sounds so peaceful and satisfied, singing a soft little song of thanks for his new little brood of bright blue babies.

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(Originally published on KissFromTheWorld.com)

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