views updated

Kingfishers

(Alcedinidae)

Class Aves

Order Coraciiformes

Suborder Alcidines

Family Alcedinidae


Thumbnail description
Small to medium-sized birds with a large head, long pointed bill, compact body, short neck, and small weak feet; plumage often black, white, or reddish, with areas of iridescent blue or green; bill and feet often black or bright red, orange, or yellow when adult; iris usually dark brown; flight fast and direct on rounded wings with short tail, but central tail feathers elongated in some species

Size
4–18 in (10–46 cm); 0.3–16.4 oz (9–465 g)

Number of genera, species
14 genera; 91 species

Habitat
Wide range of wooded or aquatic habitats, from arid savanna to dense rainforest or from sea coast to high mountain streams

Conservation status
Endangered: 1 species; Vulnerable: 11 species; Near Threatened: 12 species. Most populations face local threats to their habitat from logging of tropical forests, pollution of waterways, and development of oceanic islands

Distribution
Cosmopolitan; on all continents except Antarctica

Evolution and systematics

Kingfishers are a clearly defined group of birds, usually classified as the family Alcedinidae within the avian order Coraciiformes. They are most often placed in the suborder Alcidines, along with two small groups of birds from Central America, todies (family Todidae) and motmots (family Momotidae). Their other near relatives are bee-eaters (family Meropidae), while they appear to be more distantly related to rollers (family Coraciidae), hoopoes (families Upupidae and Phoeniculidae), hornbills (family Bucerotidae), and possibly even trogons (family Trogonidae).

The earliest fossil kingfishers are known from deposits that date to the relatively recent Lower Eocene, about 40 million years ago. These deposits in Wyoming are complemented by even more recent deposits from Germany and France, and also by material less than 25 million years old from Australia. This suggests that kingfishers have always been widely distributed across the world, including during the last two million years, when fossils similar to or identical with modern species have also been recorded from Australia, New Caledonia, Israel, Europe, North America, and Brazil. However, kingfishers form part of the radiation of coraciiform perching birds that was already well-established by about 60 million years ago, soon after the end of the Cretaceous era, so even more ancient fossils can be expected.

The 91 species of modern kingfisher can be divided easily into three groups. These are usually recognized as the subfamilies Halcyoninae, Alcedininae, and Cerylinae. However, each group is so distinct that each is sometimes elevated to the level of a family. Despite the clarity of these divisions, the relationships among the subfamilies and of the species within them remain unresolved. Traditional evidence, from morphology and behavior, suggests that the halcyonines are the least advanced kingfishers and that the cerylines and alcedinines are more advanced and more closely related to one another. More recent molecular studies, based on the technique of DNA-DNA hybridization, suggest that the alcedinines are least advanced and that the halcyonines and cerylines are most advanced and closely related. The main analysis by Hilary Fry in 1980 is based on certain assumptions. First, the inhabitants of stable habitats, such as rainforest, are more likely to be ancestral than species of recently habitable land, such as post-glacial Europe and North America or newly emerged islands. Second, species with unspecialized hunting techniques, such as simple sitand-wait hunting from a perch to the ground, will precede

more specialized modes of foraging, such as hawking insects or hovering over fish. Third, that singular species, such as the shovel-billed kookaburra (Clytoceyx rex), are more likely to be ancestral than larger groups of similar species, such as the collared (Halcyon chloris), sacred (Halcyon sancta), and chattering (Halcyon tuta) kingfishers.

Halcyoninae is the best match to these assumptions as the ancestral group. It has a number of species in primitive rain-forest habitats, especially in Indonesia and New Guinea. It has many species that hunt using generalized techniques, yet it has a number of specialized and distinctive species. It includes the largest of all kingfishers, the kookaburras (genus Dacelo), of which the well-known laughing kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) of Australia is the biggest. A number of other large species, all in Australasia or nearby Indonesia, show such affinities to kookaburras as similar call structure, raising the tail when calling, or blue color on the rump. These include the shovel-billed kookaburra, the striking white-rumped kingfisher (Caridonax fulgidus), and maybe even the smaller banded kingfisher (Lacedo pulchella). The unusual hook-billed kingfisher (Melidora macrorrhina), and the spiky-eared lilac-cheeked kingfisher (Cittura cyanotis) also show some affinities with kookaburras. However, they show other similarities to paradise kingfishers (genus Tanysiptera), named for their handsome blue-and-white plumage, red bill, and long racquettipped central tail feathers. The kookaburras are similarly linked, via the white-rumped Halcyon fulgida and moustached Halcyon bougainvillei kingfishers, to the genus Actenoides (considered part of Halycon in Peters). The remaining species of this subfamily are not obviously specialized, other than having juveniles with faint barring on the breast. However, because some smaller groupings are evident among them and because there are so many species, they are usually separated into four genera for convenience. Pelargopsis (three species) have large stork-like bills, while Syma (two species, considered part of Halycon in Peters) have serrated edges to their yellow bills. The remainder are all extremely similar but can be divided into Halcyon species of Asia and Africa, and the various forms of blue-green and white Todiramphus (20 species, considered part of Halycon in Peters) of Asia and Australasia with their white collar, dark eye patch and, in some species, blue or reddish breast.

The subfamily Alcedininae offers a much simpler arrangement, with only two genera to contain these small, mainly piscivorous kingfishers of Africa and Asia, several of which have the second toe reduced or absent. They include the smallest of the dwarf or pygmy kingfishers of the genus Ceyx (11 species), several with reddish upperparts, all inhabitants of forest and woodland, feeding mainly on small insects, and most with a red, dorsally flattened bill when adult. The remainder are combined in the genus Alcedo (9 species), most of which feed predominately on fish, have blue upperparts and a blue breast band, and a long, black, laterally flattened bill. The common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) of Eurasia is probably the best-known member of this genus. Some African species form a link between these two genera, with blue backs but red bills, which sometimes leads to their separation as a third genus Corythornis in other treatments.

The third subfamily, Cerylinae, is the only one with members in the Americas, including all members of the green-backed genus Chloroceryle (four species). All species feed mainly on fish and appear closely related to the smaller alcedinines. The cerylines include the largest piscivorous species in the genus Megaceryle (four species, considered part of Ceryle in Peters), each with pied-and-reddish plumage and inhabiting one of the continents of the Americas, Africa, or Eurasia. Finally, the pied kingfisher (Ceryle rudis) of Africa and mainland Asia, also with sexually dimorphic bands across the breast, is sometimes placed in its own genus Ceryle but only because of its smaller size and specialized hover-hunting behavior.

Physical characteristics

Kingfishers are a uniform and distinctive group of birds, all immediately recognizable as members of the Alcedinidae. They are small to medium-sized birds with a large head, long pointed bill, compact body, short neck, small legs, and weak feet. Kingfishers' feet have three front toes that are fused at their bases. Most have a fast direct flight on rounded wings and a short tail. The greatest differences are in overall form; the shape of the bill, from narrow and dagger-like to broad and shovel-like; or the development of long central tail feathers. Species range in mass from the 0.3–0.4 oz (9–11 g) African dwarf kingfisher (Myioceyx lecontei) to the 6.7–16 oz (190–465g) laughing kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae). The sexes of

most species are similar in size. In a few species, one or the other sex is slightly larger, but only in the two largest species of kookaburra are the females markedly larger, while in some paradise kingfishers the males have longer streamers to the central tail feathers.

The sexes of most species are also similar in plumage, bill, and foot color, while juveniles are generally similar to adults except that the bill is often a dull black. Most species have at least some iridescent blue or green in the plumage, offset by large areas of black, white, or brown. The bill and feet are black or brown in many species, but in others one or other appendage may be bright yellow, orange, or red. The iris is dark in most species, with only three exceptions. In many of the cerylines and halcyonines, the sexes are distinguishable through differences in the color of the breast bands or back, but only in two species of the alcedinines is there obvious sexual dichromatism.

The bill shape is generally suggestive of feeding habits, being laterally flattened and dagger-like in species that regularly dive into water after slippery aquatic prey, but dorsoventrally flattened and more scoop-like in species that catch small animals on the ground, and especially wide in those forest species that dig in soil or leaf litter for their prey. One species has a hook and another has serrations at the tip of the bill, but both are of unknown function.

The eyes of kingfishers are also specialized for sighting prey. Ganglion cells that connect the light-sensitive cone cells on the retina are especially dense across a horizontal streak, at each end of which is a depression or fovea packed with cone cells and, by its shape, especially sensitive to movement across its surface. The outer or temporal fovea includes the area of binocular vision, while the inner or nasal fovea covers monocular vision and is also especially densely packed with ganglion cells. The angles of the streak and the well-connected nasal fovea coincide with what would be predicted for birds that search below them for prey and are especially sensitive to movement in their peripheral monocular vision. The birds' ability to turn the head through a wide angle allows fixation of the object with the binocular vision of the temporal fovea. The cone cells of kingfishers are also especially rich in the droplets of red oil that signal excellent color vision. One species has already tested positive for vision near the ultraviolet range.

Species that dive into water in pursuit of prey also have to cope with the problem of the different refractive indices of air and water, and the effect that this has on the apparent location of an object due to bending of light rays at the surface. Tests have shown that pied kingfishers are able to compensate for this, mainly by increasing the dive angle and speed as the depth of prey below the water increases. This species, the most specialized piscivore of all kingfishers, also has a bony plate on the prefrontal area that slides across and screens the eyes as the head strikes the water.

Distribution

Kingfishers are cosmopolitan as a family, occurring on all ice-free continents, but with an uneven distribution of species. Only one subfamily, Cerylinae, occurs in the New World, with a few species in continental North America and a few more tropical species in Central and South America. The remaining species of the subfamily are virtually restricted to sub-Saharan Africa and the Asian mainland. The other two subfamilies, Halcyoninae and Alcedininae, occur across Africa, Asia, and Australasia, with a few species that extend north into the Paleoarctic regions of Europe, the Middle East, and continental Asia. Only members of the halcyonine genus Todiramphus extend east of Australia into the oceanic islands of the Pacific.

Most species of kingfisher are found in the Australasian region of Australia, New Guinea, and Indonesia east of Bali and Sulawesi, some of these on the oceanic islands of the Pacific. Many species are found in the adjacent areas of western Indonesia and the Sunda or Malesian region of the Malay peninsula, the islands of Borneo, Java, and Sumatra, and also the Philippines. Fewer species are found on the Asian mainland and in India and the Middle East, with only a few more in the Afrotropical region of sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar. Only one, the common kingfisher, extends north into Europe. Species have been recorded for more than one region where appropriate, depending on the extent of their known breeding and non-breeding distributions.

Habitat

Habitats that provide both food and nest sites are essential to all kingfishers. Most kingfishers have the ability to excavate their own nests in soft earth, wood, or termite nests, besides the use of natural cavities, yet nest sites often remain the most limiting resource. Species that feed mainly on aquatic animals extend from arid seashores to small mountain streams, provided that there are earth banks or termite nests into which most species will excavate their nest tunnels. Species that feed on terrestrial prey occur from arid savanna, provided that there are banks or natural tree holes in which to nest, to dense rainforest, with its greater abundance of nest sites. A subjective analysis of the main habitat requirements suggests that 31 species are primarily aquatic, whether they occupy forest or not; 44 species feed mainly in closed-canopy forests; and 17 species are most abundant in wooded savanna. Only aquatic species occur in the New World, while forest-dependant species predominate in Asia and Australasia and savanna species in Africa.

Behavior

Most kingfishers are territorial as breeding pairs, but a few species, such as the laughing kookaburra and pied kingfisher, live as cooperative groups that consist of a pair with several non-breeding helpers. Most species are sedentary, but a few, such as the belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) of North America and the gray-headed kingfisher (Halcyon leucocephala) of Africa, perform regular nocturnal migrations between breeding and non-breeding areas. All but one species are diurnal, although the hook-billed kingfisher is probably joined by the shovel-billed kookaburra in the nights of the New Guinea forests. Many species bathe by diving repeatedly into water, especially after becoming soiled in the smelly nest cavity. Most species roost alone on a perch within vegetation, rarely in an old nest cavity. Sometimes juveniles roost with adults, and a few species, especially the pied kingfisher, gather at communal roosts for part of the year. All species are highly vocal, with a variety of distinct calls that assist in their location and identification. Loud calls are used to advertise territories, while communication between mates or with offspring is often quieter.

Feeding ecology and diet

Kingfishers eat a wide range of small animals and are capable of taking prey from the ground, water, air, or foliage. Most species spend much of their time perched on the lookout for prey, and only a few expend energy to hover or hawk after prey. Despite their name, none of the kingfishers feed exclusively on fish, and ignore aquatic animals for their diet. Most are adaptable and consume a range of relatively large invertebrates, especially grasshoppers in savanna, earthworms in forest, and crustacea in water; as well as small vertebrates, especially reptiles, fish, and amphibia. Only three species have been reported eating fruit: two eating fruit during winter at

high northern latitudes, and the other eating the nutritious fruits of oil palms in the African tropics. Where several species occur together, each has a preferred habitat, such as open or closed forest; each prefers a particular size of prey; and each employs a predominant foraging technique, such as hovering, digging, or exploiting the forest canopy. A species may also alter its feeding patterns in different areas of its range, depending on the other species with which it overlaps. After capture, prey is usually carried back to and beaten against a perch with the bill until it is soft enough to swallow. A few species follow otters, platypus, cormorants, egrets, cattle, or army ants for any prey they might disturb. Others attend grass fires for the insects they disturb.

Reproductive biology

Males of most species call frequently to advertise and defend their territory. Aerial pursuit, exposure of plumage patterns in special joint displays, and courtship feeding of the female by the male are all reported prior to copulation and nesting. Food is always held head-out in the bill during breeding to allow its passage to the female or chicks. Both sexes take some part in nest excavation and cavity choice, usually in an earth bank, less often in rotten wood or in a terrestrial or arboreal termite's nest, and occasionally in a natural tree hole. Excavation is started by flying bill-first into the surface, continued later by pecking and scraping out debris with the bill or feet. The entrance tunnel, 3–26 ft (1–8 m) long depending on site and species, usually leads into a larger nest cavity, but no special lining is added. In most species, each pair nests alone, but a few species breed cooperatively, whether they are attended by helpers or nest together in a colony. Kingfisher eggs are white, round, and shiny. An egg is normally laid daily, but the size of an average clutch, ranging from two to seven, depends on the species. Both sexes usually take part in incubation and care of the young, although the female usually remains at the nest overnight. Incubation takes two to four weeks, and the nestling period three to eight weeks, related to the size of the species. Chicks hatch naked and blind, with the upper mandible of the bill notably shorter than the lower. Later, when the feathers emerge, they are retained in their quills initially, giving the chicks a prickly porcupine-like appearance. There is no nest sanitation, other than that chicks may loosen soil from the chamber walls to partly cover their droppings. Nests, especially those in earthen tunnels, often become smelly and full of maggots as feces and food remains accumulate. The chicks continue to be fed by the parents after fledging. They become independent within a few days or weeks and are sexually mature within a year.

Conservation status

The main threats to kingfishers are the clearing of their rainforest habitats and the draining or pollution of their aquatic habitats. These problems are exacerbated for species with a small total range or population, such as the Endangered Marquesas kingfisher (Halcyon godeffroyi), which lives on an island. A different threat comes from the lack of biological information about many species, so that it is difficult to plan for their conservation. Twelve species are considered threatened in some way and at least two subspecies have become extinct within historic times. All occur in Southeast Asia and Oceania; all but one inhabit forest; all but one is restricted to islands; and most occur in the Philippine center of endemic species.

Significance to humans

Kingfishers were featured in Greek mythology and on Egyptian friezes. Skulls of yellow-billed kingfishers (Syma torotoro) were worn as hair decorations in New Guinea, while the calls or sightings of some species were observed as omens, good or bad, by people of New Guinea and Borneo. Victorians added kingfishers to their collections of stuffed birds, drawn by the royal blue of the common kingfisher that gives the group its name. Kingfishers form part of legends among Arawak and Arikana tribes of Guyana and the Missouri River, respectively. Early in the twentieth century, the laughing kookaburra became an important symbol of Australia. Many other examples of human-kingfisher interaction probably exist. Currently, several species are persecuted for eating fish stocks bred for angling or farming.

Species accounts

List of Species

Laughing kookaburra
Shovel-billed kookaburra
Hook-billed kingfisher
Common paradise kingfisher
Rufous-collared kingfisher
Lilac-cheeked kingfisher
Banded kingfisher
White-rumped kingfisher
Stork-billed kingfisher
Striped kingfisher
Collared kingfisher
Yellow-billed kingfisher
African pygmy-kingfisher
Common kingfisher
Amazon kingfisher
Belted kingfisher
Pied kingfisher

Laughing kookaburra

Dacelo novaeguineae

subfamily

Halcyoninae

taxonomy

Alcedo novaeguineae Hermann, 1783, New South Wales. Two subspecies.

other common names

English: Kookaburra, jackass, brown, giant, or laughing kingfisher; French: Martin chasseur géant; German: Jägerliest; Spanish: Cucaburra Comin.

physical characteristics

15–17 in (39–42 cm), 7–16 oz (190–465 g). Largest of the kingfishers, dark brown and white with blue rump and barred reddish tail. Has a dark mask through the eye. The bill is black above and horn (or horn-colored) below.

distribution

Eastern Australia, introduced to southwest since 1897, also to Tasmania in 1905 and New Zealand since 1866.

habitat

Eucalyptus forest and woodlands, extending into parks and gardens.

behavior

Group starts the day with a loud cackling laughing chorus, led by the pair and accompanied by their mature offspring. They spend long periods perched motionless and on the lookout for prey. Are generally sedentary and inactive. Group members roost together in dense foliage.

feeding ecology and diet

Swoops down from low perch to pick up small animals as food, mainly arthropods, such as grasshoppers, beetles, and spiders. Also small vertebrates, such as snakes, lizards, mice, and small birds. Members of group usually feed separately.

reproductive biology

Monogamous pair breeds cooperatively with help of previous offspring. Nests are usually in natural cavity, less often excavated in termite nests or soft dead wood. Lays one to five eggs, usually two or three. Incubation period is 24–29 days, mainly by female but assisted by the group. Nestling period is 32–40 days; chicks are fed by whole group.

conservation status

Not threatened. Widespread and common, the species even benefits from most human developments of bush clearance and gardens. The only kingfisher to have its range extended by human introductions.

significance to humans

Well-known emblem of Australia and its bird-life.


Shovel-billed kookaburra

Clytoceyx rex

subfamily

Halcyoninae

taxonomy

Clytoceyx rex Sharpe, 1880, East Cape, New Guinea. Two subspecies.

other common names

English: Shovel-billed kingfisher, emperor or crab-eating kingfisher; French: Martin-chasseur bec-en-cuillièr; German: Froschschnabel; Spanish: Martin Cazador Picopala.

physical characteristics

12–13 in (30–34 cm), 8.6–11.5 oz (245–325 g). Large kingfisher with dark brown above with blue rump, reddish below; tail is blue (male) or reddish (female). Unique broad, deep stubby bill, with dark brown above, pale horn below.

distribution

New Guinea.

habitat

Rainforest in lowlands, but especially on foothills up to 8,000 ft (2,400 m) above sea level.

behavior

Calls at dawn from tree top, three to four long liquid notes each accompanied by tail flicking. Often perches low above forest floor, on the lookout for prey. Bill and breast often are caked with mud.

feeding ecology and diet

Feeds on forest floor, picking up prey or ploughing through soil to a depth of 3 in (8 cm), often at the base of tree or bush. Pulls out earthworms, insects, and small reptiles. Crab eating is unconfirmed. Forages at night, maybe predominately.

reproductive biology

Almost unknown. Adults are in breeding condition in January. A chick on sale at a market was said to be one of two taken from a tree hole.

conservation status

Not threatened, but poorly known. Does use forest edge and large gardens.

significance to humans

None known. Some nest-robbing for markets; are attractive to bird-watching tourists.


Hook-billed kingfisher

Melidora macrorrhina

subfamily

Halcyoninae

taxonomy

Dacelo macrorrhinus Lesson, 1827, Manokwari, New Guinea. Three subspecies.

other common names

French: Martin-chasseur d'Euphrosine; German: Hakenliest; Spanish: Martin Cazador Ganchudo.

physical characteristics

11 in (27 cm), 3.1–3.9 oz (90–110 g). Large kingfisher, brown above and white (male) or buff (female) below. Feathers of crown are black with blue (male) or green (female) edges. Long bill has hooked tip with dark brown above and pale below.

distribution

New Guinea and some adjacent small islands.

habitat

Lowland rainforest, both primary and secondary, and also agricultural plantations.

behavior

Calls at dusk, dawn, and throughout moonlit nights; one to three whistles followed by one to four short, high-pitched notes. Bill often is caked with mud.

feeding ecology and diet

Feeds on large insects and frogs, probably by digging in soil. Main activity is at twilight and during the night.

reproductive biology

5 in (12 cm) wide nest chamber dug into active nests of arboreal termites. Lays two to three eggs; male incubates eggs and broods chicks by day. Collect food for chicks by day and night.

conservation status

Not threatened, but little known due to its nocturnal habits.

significance to humans

None known. Attractive to bird-watching tourists.


Common paradise kingfisher

Tanysiptera galatea

subfamily

Halcyoninae

taxonomy

Tanysiptera galatea G. R. Gray, 1859, Manokwari, New Guinea. At least 15 subspecies, some elevated to species.

other common names

English: Galatea racquet-tail; French: Martin-chasseur à longs brins; German: Spatelliest; Spanish: Alción Colilargo Común.

physical characteristics

13–17 in (33–43 cm), 1.9–2.4 oz (55–69 g). Spectacular medium-sized kingfisher, dark blue above, white below with shining blue crown, red bill and long blue central tail feathers with white racquets at the tip.

distribution

New Guinea, west to main islands of Halmahera and Buru in Indonesia and several smaller islands in between.

habitat

Lowland rainforest, even small patches, up to 980 ft (300 m) above sea level, but also more open areas of monsoon and riparian forest, even extending into secondary forest.

behavior

Calls with one to four long whistles, ending with a loud trill. Very sedentary and spends much time perched low down, deep within favorite small area of forest.

feeding ecology and diet

Flies down to forest floor to catch prey, less often to snatch insects off foliage. Eats wide range of small animals, mainly earthworms, but also snails, centipedes, beetles, grasshoppers, caterpillars, and lizards.

reproductive biology

Both sexes of a monogamous pair excavate nest chamber in active nest of arboreal termite Microtermes biroi, an essential component of their habitat. Lays up to five eggs and both sexes care for eggs and chicks. Good breeding success.

conservation status

Common and not threatened. Some threat from forest clearance, especially to small populations of subspecies on isolated islands.

significance to humans

None known.


Rufous-collared kingfisher

Actenoides concretus

subfamily

Halcyoninae

taxonomy

Dacelo concreta Temminck, 1825, Sumatra. Three subspecies.

other common names

English: Chestnut-collared kingfisher; French: Martin-chasseur trapu; German: Malaienliest; Spanish: Alción Malayo.

physical characteristics

9–9.5 in (23–24 cm), 2.1–3.2 oz (60–90 g). Dumpy, medium-sized kingfisher, with green crown, blue (male), or buff-spotted green (female) back, rufous below and on collar. Bill black above and yellow below.

distribution

Sunda region of Malay Peninsula, Borneo, and Sumatra.

habitat

Dense lowland rainforest, even secondary forest in which canopy regenerated, up to 5,600 ft (1,700 m) above sea level.

behavior

Calls with loud, long whistle that rises in tone. Perches mainly in middle and lower levels of dense forest, often with slow head bobbing and tail pumping.

feeding ecology and diet

Drops from low perch to snatch prey at water surface or pick up from the ground, sometimes turning over leaves in its search. Feeds on various arthropods, including insects and large scorpions, also snails, fish, small snakes and lizards.

reproductive biology

Monogamous pair excavates nest burrow in earth bank, rarely in rotten tree trunk, ending in 8 in (20 cm) diameter nest chamber. Lay two eggs that are incubated for about 22 days.

conservation status

Considered Near Threatened due to extensive removal of lowland forest, but survives in hill forest and in conserved tracts.

significance to humans

None known, though most widespread species in genus of six species spread across Southeast Asia.


Lilac-cheeked kingfisher

Cittura cyanotis

subfamily

Halcyoninae

taxonomy

Dacelo cyanotis Temminck, 1824, Sulawesi (Sumatra in error). Three subspecies.

other common names

English: Blue-eared, lilac kingfisher; French: Martin-chasseur oreillard; German: Blauohrliest; Spanish: Martin Cazador de Célebes.

physical characteristics

11 in (28 cm), no mass data. Large kingfisher with unique, spiky, lilac ear coverts, brown above, lilac and white below with black (male) or blue (female) shoulder to dark wings. Black mask, bright red bill and feet. Red iris distinctive.

distribution

Sulawesi in Indonesia, and adjacent larger islands.

habitat

Tall primary or secondary rainforest, up to 3,300 ft (1,000 m) above sea level.

behavior

Known to roost on bare branch of low tree. Calls with rapid descending series of four notes, repeated every few minutes. Perches for long period in dark forest at middle to lower levels, watching for prey or for a mate to which it may display with raised bill and fanned tail.

feeding ecology and diet

Swoops down to capture prey on ground, mainly large insects, such as mantids, cicadas, grasshoppers and beetles, together with millipedes and small reptiles. Sometimes also hunts along the edge of clearings.

reproductive biology

Nest reported from burrow in sloping ground, no further data.

conservation status

Considered Near Threatened due to restricted range, patchy distribution and steady removal of its forest habitat. Nowhere common and biology not well understood.

significance to humans

None known.


Banded kingfisher

Lacedo pulchella

subfamily

Halcyoninae

taxonomy

Dacelo pulchella Horsfield, 1821, Java. Three subspecies.

other common names

French: Martin-chasseur mignon; German: Wellenliest; Spanish: Martin Cazador Chico.

physical characteristics

8 in (20 cm), no mass data. Medium-sized kingfisher with back and tail banded in black. Sexes differently colored, male with crown and back metallic blue, forehead and mask rufous or black and pale buff below, female reddish brown above and white below with fine black banding extending over head and across breast. Both sexes with red bill, one of few kingfishers with pale, yellow-brown iris.

distribution

Myanmar, Thailand, and Sunda region of Borneo, Sumatra, and Java.

habitat

Lowland evergreen and bamboo forest, extending to 5,600 ft (1,700 m) above sea level on hill forests of Borneo.

behavior

Perches motionless for long periods, except to slowly raise and lower long crown feathers, at various heights in the forest.

Members of pair territorial, often perched in close proximity to one another. Call with single long whistle, followed by long series of short tri- and di-syllabic whistles.

feeding ecology and diet

Forages in diverse ways, swooping to the ground, onto fallen trees or into water, probing in loose soil, or snatching off foliage. Diet also diverse, a wide variety of arthropods and small vertebrates.

reproductive biology

Excavate nest cavity in rotten wood, earth bank or arboreal termite nest. Lays two to five eggs. No further details recorded.

conservation status

Not threatened. Widespread and common in many areas of unlogged forest, including large conservation reserves. Easily overlooked unless calling.

significance to humans

Regarded as an omen bird by Iban people of Borneo.


White-rumped kingfisher

Caridonax fulgidus

subfamily

Halcyoninae

taxonomy

Halcyon fuligidus Gould, 1857, Lombok. Two subspecies. Looks superficially like a Halcyon species, but shows more similarity to paradise kingfishers, kookaburras, and Actenoides species.

other common names

English: Blue-and-white kingfisher, glittering kingfisher; French: Martin-chasseur étincelant; German: Glitzerliest; Spanish: Alción Culiblanco.

physical characteristics

12 in (30 cm), no mass data. Large kingfisher, blue-black above, white below and on rump, with bright red bill, feet and eye ring. Deep orange iris distinctive.

distribution

Main islands of Lesser Sundas archipelago in Indonesia, Lombok, Sumbawa, Flores, and Besar.

habitat

Primary and secondary forests, including wooded areas with cultivation.

behavior

Calls with long rapid series of yapping notes, one per second, sometimes for over half a minute. Cocks the tail when calling, like a kookaburra.

feeding ecology and diet

Known to eat insects and their larvae but no description of how they are captured.

reproductive biology

Each pair is territorial and excavates a nest tunnel in an earth bank. One nest had two eggs, another a single chick.

conservation status

Not threatened. Still considered widespread and fairly common, despite restricted range and alteration of favored habitats in primary evergreen and deciduous forests. Biology poorly known.

significance to humans

None known, though attractive to bird-watching tourists with handsome colors and unique taxonomic status.


Stork-billed kingfisher

Pelargopsis capensis

subfamily

Halcyoninae

taxonomy

Alcedo capensis Linnaeus, 1766, Chandernagor, West Bengal. At least 16 subspecies.

other common names

English: Brown-headed stork-billed kingfisher; French: Marin-chasseur gurial; German: Storchsnabelliest; Spanish: Alción Picocigüeña.

physical characteristics

14 in (35 cm), 5.0–7.9 oz (143–225 g). Large kingfisher with red bill and feet, varies from dark blue to pale turquoise above, rufous to white below, on head and on neck.

distribution

India east to China, Vietnam, Philippines, Borneo, and Lesser Sundas archipelago, including many intervening islands such as Java, Sumatra, Andamans, and Sri Lanka.

habitat

Stream and river banks up to 3,900 ft (1,200 m) above sea level, in forest, open woodland, and mangroves on the seashore, even among plantations and paddy fields.

behavior

Perches on snags close to or over water. Main call a series of harsh cackling notes, uttered at perch or in flight. Spends long periods watching for prey, sometimes slowly bobbing head or wagging tail.

feeding ecology and diet

Dives into water or to the ground to capture food, then returns to perch to soften prey. Diet mainly aquatic, such as fish,

crabs, and prawns, but also frogs, lizards, mice, and insects. Known to catch prey flushed by otters.

reproductive biology

Monogamous breeding pairs are aggressively territorial. Excavate nest cavity in river bank, flat ground, rotten wood or arboreal termitaria, rarely use natural tree hole. Nest tunnel about 4 in (10 cm) wide, 3 ft (1 m) long, ending in 9–12 in (23–30 cm) diameter chamber in which two to five eggs are laid. Details of nesting cycle unrecorded.

conservation status

Not threatened. Widespread, locally common, and occupies wide range of habitats. Human disturbance may cause local disappearance.

significance to humans

None known.


Striped kingfisher

Halcyon chelicuti

subfamily

Halcyoninae

taxonomy

Alaudo chelicuti Stanley, 1814, Chelicut, Ethiopia. Two subspecies.

other common names

French: Martin-chasseur strié; German: Streifenliest; Spanish: Alción Estriado.

physical characteristics

6 in (17 cm), 1.1–1.8 oz (30–50 g). Small dull kingfisher, brown on crown and back, white on face, collar, and breast,

dark brown streaks on crown and flanks, blue-green back, rump, and flight feathers. Black mask, bill black above and red below, feet red.

distribution

Wooded savannas of sub-Saharan Africa.

habitat

Wide tolerance, from clearings in forest to riverine trees within scrublands. Extends into most arid habitats, along with red-backed kingfisher (Todiramphus pyrrhopygius) of Australia, which also has a striped crown.

behavior

Perches 6.5–13 ft (2–4 m) up, usually on dry twigs on lookout for food. Often perches higher when territorial calling, a high disyllabic trill repeated up to 10 times, often a pair in duet. Calls accompanied by alternate flashing of blue and white patterns on upper and underside of wings, while swiveling back and forth on perch with tail cocked.

feeding ecology and diet

Feeds mainly on insects, especially grasshoppers, beetles and larvae, but will eat wide range of small invertebrates and a few vertebrates. Takes most prey on the ground, sometimes in the air, with 80% capture success.

reproductive biology

Monogamous pair nests in old hole excavated by barbet or woodpecker, less often in natural cavity or old swallow nest. Often assisted by a second male. Lays two to six eggs, duration of nesting cycle unrecorded, sometimes double-brooded.

conservation status

Not threatened. Common across wide range of extensive habitats, including in many large reserves and in areas of shifting cultivation.

significance to humans

None known.


Collared kingfisher

Todiramphus chloris

subfamily

Halcyoninae

taxonomy

Alcedo chloris Boddaert, 1783, Buru. Exact taxonomy incomplete, at least 49 subspecies described.

other common names

English: Black-masked/white-collared kingfisher; French: Martin-chasseur à collier blanc; German: Halsbandliest; Spanish: Alción Acollarado.

physical characteristics

9–10 in (23–25 cm), 1.8–3.5 oz (51–100 g). Small kingfisher, generally blue-green above, white or buff below and on collar. Mask, feet and bill black, latter with yellow base. Much local variation across wide, fragmented, and insular range, mainly in intensity of colors and of white or rufous on head.

distribution

Red Sea east to China, Philippines, Indonesia, New Guinea, Australia, and many adjacent oceanic islands, reaching Andamans, Marianas, Fiji, and Tonga, among others.

habitat

Mainly coastal in mangroves and estuaries, but extends inland along major rivers and into adjacent forests and croplands. Widest habitat tolerance on some islands, up to 4,900 ft (1,500m) above sea level on Java and Sumatra.

behavior

Calls with two to five shrill notes from perch or in flight. Perches for long periods in the open, usually below 9 ft (3 m). Nocturnal migrant in some areas.

feeding ecology and diet

Dives from perch to ground, mud, or into water after prey. Eats wide range of small animals, along coasts mainly fish and crustacea, inland includes more insects in diet. Known to follow otters for any prey they might disturb.

reproductive biology

Lays two to five eggs in cavity excavated by both members of monogamous pair in dead wood, earth bank, arboreal termitarium or even fern roots, less often natural tree hole or old woodpecker nest. Incubation about 14 days, nestling period 29–30 days.

conservation status

Not threatened. Wide distribution, common or even abundant in many areas, range extends into areas of cultivation. Suffers from local habitat destruction in some areas, especially on small islands with distinctive subspecies.

significance to humans

None known.


Yellow-billed kingfisher

Syma torotoro

subfamily

Halcyonine

taxonomy

Syma torotoro Lesson, 1827, Manokwari, New Guinea. Three subspecies.

other common names

English: Lesser/lowland yellow-billed kingfisher, saw-billed kingfisher; French: Martin-chasseur torotoro; German: Gelbschnabelliest; Spanish: Alción Torotoro.

physical characteristics

8 in (20 cm), 1.1–1.8 oz (30–52 g). Small rufous kingfisher, with green back and tail and blue rump. Black patch on nape, sometimes on crown. Only kingfishers with yellow bill and feet, and with serrated tip to upper mandible of bill.

distribution

New Guinea, northern Australia, and adjacent islands.

habitat

Primary and secondary forest, and wooded areas of cultivation.

behavior

Usually perches below 26 ft (8 m), but at any height including forest canopy. Calls with either short abrupt or longer fading loud trill. Sways from side to side while perched. May raise crown in threat, to display black eye-like spots on nape.

feeding ecology and diet

Captures most prey from ground, some off foliage or in air, rarely from water's edge or under leaf. Diet mainly insects, also earthworms and few small lizards, geckos, and snakes. May follow columns of ants for any insects they disturb.

reproductive biology

Both members of monogamous, territorial pair excavate nest chamber in arboreal termite nest or soft dead wood. Lay one to four eggs, incubated and later brooding by both sexes.

conservation status

Not threatened. Widespread, common and at densities of pair per 2.5–5 acres (1–2 ha) in good forest habitat.

significance to humans

Skulls valued as ornaments for hair by people of Middle Sepik River in New Guinea.


African pygmy-kingfisher

Ceyx pictus

subfamily

Alcedininae

taxonomy

Todus pictus Boddaert, 1783, St. Louis, Senegal. Three subspecies.

other common names

English: Pygmy/miniature kingfisher; French: Martin-pêcheur pygmée; German: Natalzwergfischer; Spanish: Martin Pigmeo Africano.

physical characteristics

5 in (12 cm), 0.3–0.6 oz (9–16 g). Very small rufous kingfisher, with blue on crown, wings and rump, white on throat and ear spot, and lilac sides to face. Bill red, black in juvenile.

distribution

Resident in tropical Africa, expanding to breed in subtropics on either side during respective summers. Most widespread small African kingfisher, genus of six other species also widespread across southeastern Asia and New Guinea.

habitat

Resident in dense forest and woodland, migrating to more open woodland and borders of cultivated areas.

behavior

Usually perches within 3 ft (1 m) of ground, searching for prey, often bobbing head or pumping tail. Utters soft highpitched

song, more often calls single, high, insect-like squeak during rapid flight. Migrates at night.

feeding ecology and diet

Pounces on prey mainly on ground, also in air or from water. Eats mainly insects, also spiders, myriapods, and even small frogs and lizards.

reproductive biology

Monogamous pair excavates nest tunnel about 16 in (40 cm) long in earth bank, termitarium or aardvark burrow, sometimes in small colonies but usually spaced within territories. Lay three to six eggs, incubation and nestling periods each 18 days, attended by both parents. Often raise second or third broods during summer breeding season.

conservation status

Not threatened. Widespread and common in most areas of range.

significance to humans

None known. Numbers killed during night migration by collision with windows.


Common kingfisher

Alcedo atthis

subfamily

Alcedininae

taxonomy

Gracula atthis Linnaeus, 1758, Egypt. Seven subspecies.

other common names

English: European/Eurasian kingfisher; French: Martin-pêcheur d'Europe; German: Eisvogel; Spanish: Martin Pescador Común.

physical characteristics

6 in (16 cm), 0.7–1.6 oz (20–46 g). Small kingfisher, typical of genus, blue-green above, rufous below and on cheeks and forehead, white throat and spot on neck. Bill black (male) or red below (female), feet red.

distribution

Resident across mainland Europe, northern Africa, Asia, New Guinea and adjacent islands, breeding summer migrant to about 55o N across Palearctic, non-breeding winter migrant mainly to Middle East and islands of tropical southeastern Asia.

habitat

Rivers with vegetation along banks, less often lakes and dams, more coastal during non-breeding season.

behavior

Largely aquatic. Perches inconspicuously, usually low above the water. Often turns around on perch to extend search area, bobs head when sights prey. Sings with whistles and warbles, shrill two-note screech in flight.

feeding ecology and diet

Diet mainly small fish, augmented with some aquatic crustacea, insects and frogs. Dives underwater from perch, to depths up to 3 ft (1 m). Rarely hovers, hawks insects, or follows otters to obtain food.

reproductive biology

Both sexes territorial, and monogamous pair excavates nest tunnel into earth bank, 22–54 in (15–137 cm) long depending on soil conditions. Rarely use rotten wood or disused burrow of another animal. Breed during austral summer. Lay 3–10 eggs, incubation 19–21 days, shared by day female by night. Nestling period 23–27 days, chicks fed by both parents at maximum average rate of three to four items per hour.

conservation status

Not threatened. Widespread and common, at densities up to four pairs/0.6 mi (four pair/km) on river, but some local problems with polluted or altered river courses.

significance to humans

Depletes stock on angling rivers or in fish ponds, sometimes persecuted.


Amazon kingfisher

Chloroceyle amazona

subfamily

Cerylinae

taxonomy

Alcedo amazona Latham, 1790, Cayenne. Monotypic.

other common names

French: Martin-pêcheur d'Amazonie; German: Amazonasfischer; Spanish: Martin Pescador Amazónico.

physical characteristics

12 in (30 cm), 3.5–4.9 oz (98–140 g). Very large, metallic-green kingfisher, with white underparts and collar. Flanks streaked with green, breast band rufous (male) or green (female). Long heavy black bill.

distribution

Mexico, central and South America, east of Andes and south to northern Argentina.

habitat

Large rivers, lakes and estuaries, especially along more open shores, up to 8,202 ft (2,500 m) above sea level.

behavior

Most often perched about 16 ft (5 m) up in large tree overlooking water. Sometimes bobs head or pumps tail. Utters loud harsh barks, singly or in rapid series.

feeding ecology and diet

Aquatic diet, mainly of 0.4–6.7 in (10–170 mm) long fish, especially characid species, and some crustacea. Dives into water after prey from perch, rarely after hovering briefly.

reproductive biology

Both members of monogamous pair excavate nest tunnel in earth back near water. Lays two to four eggs, incubated for 22 days by female at night and mainly by male by day. Nestling period 29–30 days.

conservation status

Not threatened. Widespread and common, at densities of up to 1/km (large rivers), 4/km (streams) and even 5–6/km (lakes) at center of range. Occurs alongside four other species, two of similar size, two smaller, that may affect abundance, ecology, and success.

significance to humans

None known.


Belted kingfisher

Megaceryle alcyon

subfamily

Cerylinae

taxonomy

Alcedo alcyon Linnaeus, 1758, South Carolina. Monotypic.

other common names

French: Martin-pêcheur d'Amérique; German: Gütelfischer; Spanish: Martin Gigante Norteamericano.

physical characteristics

11–13 in (28–33 cm), 4.0–6.3 oz (113–178 g). Very large, blue-gray kingfisher, with white breast and collar. Breast band plain blue-gray (male) or with rufous below (female). Juveniles of both sexes resemble adult female.

distribution

Resident across central United States of America and southern Canada, breeding summer migrant almost to Arctic Circle (to about 65°N), non-breeding winter migrant to southern USA and central America, south to Galapagos Islands and Guyana.

habitat

Lakes, rivers, streams, ponds and estuaries, from seashore to 8,200 ft (2,500 m) above sea level. Uses mainly mangroves, coasts, and offshore islands during non-breeding season.

behavior

Usually perched in large tree overlooking water. Main call a harsh series of rattling notes. Visually sensitive to near-ultraviolet wavelengths, but behavioral significance unknown.

feeding ecology and diet

Aquatic diet, mainly fish, but also crustacea, amphibians, mollusks, and insects. Some fruit taken in winter. Hunts from perch or by hovering about 49 ft (15 m) above water, sometimes 0.6 mi (1 km) out from shore. Rarely submerges, catches most prey within 24 in (60 cm) of surface. Hunts mainly in late morning and afternoon, sometimes following egrets for any prey they disturb.

reproductive biology

Monogamous, breeding during northern summer. Both parents excavate nest tunnel in earth bank, within range of but not always close to water. Burrow usually 3.3–6.6 ft (1–2 m) deep

with 8–12 in (20–30 cm) diameter cavity at end. Lays five to eight eggs, incubation 22–24 days, nestling period 27–35 days. Sexes share duties of incubation, brooding, and provisioning.

conservation status

Not threatened. Widespread and common in many areas, more resistant to pollution than most kingfishers. Some local disturbance at nest sites.

significance to humans

Feeds on some fish stocks and so persecuted locally.


Pied kingfisher

Ceryle rudis

subfamily

Cerylinae

taxonomy

Alcedo rudis Linnaeus, 1758, Egypt. Four subspecies.

other common names

English: Lesser/small/Indian pied kingfisher; French: Martin-pêcheur pie; German: Graufischer; Spanish: Martin Pescador Pie.

physical characteristics

10 in (25 cm), 2.4–3.9 oz (68–110 g). Medium-sized kingfisher patterned in black and white. Black crown and broad mask distinctive, with double (male) or single (female) black band across white underparts. Very long black bill.

distribution

Sub-Saharan Africa, through Middle East, India, and Asian mainland to southern China.

habitat

Mainly large rivers, estuaries, and lakes, but from seashores to 8,200 ft (2,500 m) above sea level, also streams, ponds, and irrigation ditches. Absent from center of large swamps.

behavior

Often perched on waterside vegetation or lookouts, rarely on the backs of hippos. Regularly bobs head or pumps tail. Noisy, with variety of shrill trills and chirps, uttered at perch or in flight.

feeding ecology and diet

Perches wherever possible, to save energy, but hovers in search of prey more than any other kingfisher, especially under windy

conditions. May then dive to 18 in (45 cm) below the surface and forage up to 2 mi (3 km) from shore, where it swallows prey in flight rather than return to a perch. Diet mainly small 1–2.4 in (25–60 mm) fish, supplemented by aquatic insects and crustacea. Eats few amphibians and mollusks, even insects taken ashore or in the air.

reproductive biology

Monogamous pair excavates a nest tunnel in an earth bank, alone, or in colony of up to 100 pairs where nest sites limited. Normal clutch four to five eggs, incubation 18 days, nestling period 23–26 days. Sexes share nest duties, often assisted by a son from a previous brood and, especially in feeding chicks, by unrelated males.

conservation status

Not threatened. Widespread and common, locally even abundant. The most numerous kingfisher in the world. Benefited in many areas from artificial dams and fish farming or stocking activities. Suffers locally from water pollution and use of pesticides.

significance to humans

None known.


Resources

Books

Fry, C.H., K. Fry, and A. Harris. Kingfishers, Bee-eaters and Rollers. Halfway House, South Africa: Russel Friedman Books, 1992.

Sibley, C.G., and J.E. Ahlquist. Phylogeny and Classification of Birds: A Study in Molecular Evolution. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1990.

Woodall, P.F. "Family Alcedinidae (Kingfishers)." In Handbook of Birds of the World. Vol. 6, Mousebirds to Hornbills, edited by J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, and J. Sargatal. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions, 2001.

Periodicals

Fry, C.H. "The Evolutionary Biology of Kingfishers (Alcedinidae)." Living Bird 18 (1980): 113–60.

Fry, C.H. "The Origin of Afrotropical Kingfishers." Ibis 122 (1980): 57–64.

Woodall, P.F. "Morphometry, Diet and Habitat in the Kingfishers (Aves: Alcedinidae)." Journal of Zoology, London 233, no. 1 (1991): 79–90.

Other

Coraciiformes Taxon Advisory Group. <http://www.coraciiformestag.com>.

Alan C. Kemp, PhD

About this article

Kingfishers (Alcedinidae)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article