Kingfisher perched above a stream
Kingfisher perched above a stream. This is the common kingfisher, Alcedo atthis

The kingfisher is a small to medium-sized brightly colored bird famous for hunting and eating fish. Kingfishers can hover over open water until they spot a fish then they dive and plunge beneath the water to catch their prey.

Kingfishers have stocky bodies, short legs, and short tails, and most have large, long, sharp-tipped bills perfect for spearing fish. Kingfishers are commonly quiet and patient birds. When not hovering, they can sit on a branch or perch above water and wait for a fish to appear.

Kingfishers are found around the world. Most species are found in the tropical regions of Africa, Asia, and Oceania, but they are also found in the Americas and Europe. Most kingfishers live near rivers and lakes or in coastal regions. There are about 120 species of kingfishers. A few species are found in forests away from water; they eat insects, worms, and small invertebrates, not fish. Kingfishers do not live in polar regions or deserts.

A kingfisher emerges from the water with a fish
A kingfisher emerges from the water with a fish

Most kingfishers have bright feathers. Some species have bright sapphire head and wing feathers, some have dark green heads and backs, some have gray head and wing feathers with bright orange rings or belts across their chests. The smallest species of kingfisher is the African dwarf kingfisher (Ispidina lecontei), which is a bit less than 4 inches (10 cm) long. The largest kingfisher is the giant kingfisher (Megaceryle maxima) of Africa which is about 18 inches (45cm) long. The belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyron) which is about 16 inches (40cm) long is common in North and Central America.

Kingfishers are well adapted to be swift hunters. Their short, round wings and stubby tail make them fast and agile. They can easily fold their short legs and wings back when they dive underwater. They usually spear or catch a fish whole then fly up to a perch and beat it until it is dead and then eat it whole head first.

Kingfishers usually fly in a straight line; they rarely soar. Their fast-beating wings make a whirring sound as they hover above open water or dart from perch to perch in search of food. Just about the only time kingfishers can be spotted is when they give away their location with a loud, long, rattling, whistling, or piping call.

Unlike most birds, most kingfishers do not nest in trees, they nest in burrows or tunnels often on the banks of a stream or river. Kingfishers will tunnel into a river bank as far as 9 feet (2.6m) to establish a nest chamber. There a male and female kingfisher will sit on their eggs for about 20 days and raise their chicks. Young kingfishers are ready to leave the nest and go out on their own when just over a month old.

Also of interest:


Wandering Albatross

Barn Owls

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