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Can you guess which bird this is from ?


First of all: remember if you're around Gravesend this Tuesday I'm giving a talk to Science And More at 7pm 6.30pm for 7pm at No. 84 Tea Room and Eatery, 84 Parrock Road. I'll be talking about bones, how I got started, putting together my book and lots more - it'll be great to see you !

Anyway, back to this week. Well, this is an easy skull to identify. From the long beak, thicker than a snipe or an oystercatcher, it's clearly a bird that eats fish, and at 6.5cm long it's clearly the same as my heron skull...wait, did you say 6.5cm ?!?! That's much too small to be a heron.....

I'm cheating of course, because I knew it was a kingfisher skull all along - it was sent to me as a kind gift from someone called David, a friend of Paul Reeves, a reader of my blog. But the most obvious thing about it is how much it looks like my grey heron skull. Here they are side by side:

They both have the thick lower mandible and spear-shaped beak that is adapted to dive into water and swallow fish. (Fun fact: the kingfisher swallows fish whole, and turns them so they go down its throat head first. As part of courtship, it offers them to a female turned round so they can sallow them head first as well).

They like to feed in slow moving rivers and streams, or in ponds perching on branches just above the water level, and when they see a small fish or aquatic insect, it will swiftly dive down, pierce through the water and grab it with its beak. 

This is particularly interesting to me because on the walk I do twice a day, just outside my village, there is are a couple of pond which, on rare occasions, dad and I would see the flicker of blue which means one of the kingfishers is nearby. Dad shot this picture one dusk. 

This skull has still some of the soft tissue at the back of the head attached. I don't mind that, because it has kept some of the smaller bones in place, such as the quadrate bone, which hinges the lower beak.

You can see here the very small brain case socket, which, in most animals is much wider and if you look closely, you can see that the top vertebra is still attached. The kingfisher is only 10 cm long and has to eat its bodyweight everyday. There are over 87 different types of kingfisher found all over the world, but many of them don't eat fish and rarely go near the water.

All of the facts you have just read is why the kingfisher is one of my favourite animals (along with frogs). I have only ever seen a handful of them in my life, but I'm hoping to see many more in the future.

Underneath the soft tissue has preserved the delicate hyoid bones in place - which control the tongue, and are rarely found with mammals (although I wrote about some red deer ones here). You find them more often in birds, especially sea birds, because the salt dries and preserves the fine tissue:

I'm currently storing this skull in a protective plastic case as it's so delicate and putting it in the same cabinet as my other favourite skulls, like the leopard, snake and beaver. I'm not going to try get the dried soft tissue off of the back of the skull as I'm worried I might break the skull.

A big thank you to Paul and David for sending this !

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