Kiskadees move into new region

By Jay V. Huner
Journal Correspondent

Most readers are familiar with Belted Kingfishers, medium-sized blue and white birds with prominent crests found around our lakes, ponds, streams, rivers, bayous, sloughs and ditches.

Females have bright reddish brown waist bands. They are loud and raucous birds that perch above the water and dive down to catch fish, crawfish, tadpoles and other aquatic prey.

Now, imagine a bird shaped like a kingfisher but having a reddish brown back and tail, lemony yellow belly, white throat, yellow crown above a black stripe and black face mask framed with bright white stripes. The bird's kingfisher like call "Kis Ka Dee" gives the Greater Kiskadee its name. While their bills aren't as large and conspicuous as a kingfisher's bill, kiskadees' black bills are robust, hardly dainty.

You won't likely find Greater Kiskadees in our piney woods. In fact, to see them regularly in the USA, you'll have to the Lower Rio Grande Valley in south Texas. A few are found along the Texas Gulf Coast into southwestern Louisiana.

Over the years, a few attempts by Greater Kiskadees to nest have been found in southwestern Louisiana but none has been found to be successful. In May 2015, birders Cameron Rutt and Stephanie Wheeler found a nesting pair of Great Kiskadees in an RV park in Sulphur, Louisiana. The birds produced two successive broods.

Delighted birders from across the region visited the RV park to add Greater Kiskadee to various lists life, state, and year. And, the birds have persisted in the park to this writing March 2016.

So, what kind of bird is the Great Kiskadee? Well, it's a member of the flycatcher family. They are called neotropical birds because they are associated with the "new tropics" Middle America and South America.

Great Kiskadees have very diversified, non-flycatcher diets. Like other flycatchers, they wait patiently on open perches and darts out to catch passing insects. Unlike most other flycatchers, they eat fruits and berries and they regularly catch small fish and tadpoles. And, I'd bet in Louisiana, crawfish! Watch a kingfisher fishing and you'll see it dive into the water for its prey making a big splash. Kiskadees are said to both plunge dive like this but to also pick off prey near the surface rather than splashing into the water.

I saw my first Great Kiskadee some years ago around the campers in Benston State Park near Mission, Texas. It wasn't a standoffish, hard to find bird. It was feeding on peanut butter spread on a board next to RVs in the camping area that was once open there. So, kiskadees have no problems with people and readily eat pet food from untended bowls!

Great Kiskadees make large, round, bowl-shaped nests, a foot or more in diameter, with an opening on one side. Nests are generally located toward the interior of a medium-sized tree well above the ground. Parents are very attentive of their offspring and may nest two or three times in a breeding season.

There are several kingbirds that somewhat resemble Greater Kiskadees that are sometimes found in the piney woods Couches', Tropical and Western kingbirds. They have bright, yellow bellies but their backs are gray and lack the kiskadee's conspicuous black and white striped face.