Exploring Kingfishers: Anatomy, Behaviors, & Species

Kingfisher species

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The kingfisher is such an iconic bird all over the world. So much so that it was the inspiration behind the design of the Japanese bullet train. But aside from being an engineer’s muse, the kingfisher is one of the avian world’s most incredible species.

Kingfisher Overview

Kingfisher overview
Red-Backed Kingfisher (Todiramphus pyrrhopygius)

With more than 100 different species, the Alcedinidae family, to which kingfishers belong, is divided into three subfamilies: Alcedininae, Cerylinae, and Halcyoninae, demonstrating the incredible diversity among the species.

Most people recognize kingfishers for their beautiful coloration but it’s important to keep in mind that there’s distinct sexual dimorphism in this species, with males and females being incredibly different. For example, the female belted kingfisher has a rusty red strip of plumage across her front whereas the male does not.

Not only are these birds known for their beautiful appearance but also for their hunting skill. It’ll come as no surprise, given their name, that they’re expert fishers and feed on a diet of fish and other aquatic life such as amphibians and crustaceans when they are available. They’ll swoop down and dive into the water to catch their prey but there are some species that live in wooded areas whose hunting techniques are a little less conventional.

For example, there have been reports of the red-backed kingfisher using its beak to hammer into fairy martin nests to feed on the young. This demonstrates how different species adapt to their environment. Aside from forests, kingfishers are found in a range of different habitats around the globe including coastal regions, grasslands, deserts, rivers, and lakes. They’re so widespread and diverse that they’re found on every continent except for Antarctica.

Anatomy & Adaptations

A Kingfisher’s Streamlined Beak Enables it to Dive into the Water Almost Silently

With so many different species of kingfisher, you can imagine the diversity in terms of appearance. But there are plenty of things that all kingfishers have in common such as their feet which allow them to grip onto surfaces or their specialized beak that’s used for hunting.

Specialized Beak

As I touched upon earlier, the kingfisher was the inspiration behind the Japanese bullet train and that’s largely because of its streamlined beak. The shape of the beak allows the bird to dive, almost silently into the water thanks to how streamlined it is. Look at the bullet train and notice how it’s just as streamlined which makes for a smooth and efficient journey because of how the air travels around the shape of the nose. 

Of course, the shape and size of the beak are largely dependent on the kingfisher species in question. However, one thing that’s common among all kingfishers is that the beak is long in proportion to the body and that’s so the bird has greater reach when hunting around the water. However, the shape of the beak does affect hydrodynamics among species with the green and rufous kingfisher from the Amazon being considered the most hydrodynamic.

You’ll also notice the unique shape of the mandible which is sharp and elongated. This shape ensures that not only does the kingfisher enter the water quietly, but also efficiently and without drag, even when flying at high speeds. That sharp tip means that capturing prey is much easier and there’s less room for error. Plus, it comes in pretty handy for cleaning when they need to remove debris from their plumage.

Along the upper mandible, you’ll notice that there is a raised section and this is known as the culmen ridge. Its purpose is to offer greater structure to the beak so that it is supported when striking at slippery prey. This is just one of the dietary adaptations we see in these birds that allow them to effectively capture prey.

When the kingfisher dives into the water, the position of the nostril, near the base of the beak, means that water cannot get in, allowing the bird to continue breathing as normal during its hunting dives.


While waiting for an opportune moment to dive into the water and catch its prey, the kingfisher sits patiently on branches and other surfaces. They’re so easily able to grip onto both vertical and horizontal surfaces thanks to their zygodactyl feet. This means that they have two forward-facing toes and two backward-facing toes for optimal grip. What’s more, regardless of habitat, this adaptation allows them to walk on the ground as well as grip surfaces, showing how diverse these birds are. 

Their grip also comes in handy when the kingfisher catches its wet and slippery prey from the water. Being so powerful, they’re able to securely hold onto the fish, even when the bird is moving at high speeds. This grip, coupled with sharp claws is just one of the reasons these birds are such effective hunters. They’ll also use their strong claws for digging out a nest in the riverbank.

You’ll probably be familiar with the webbed feet we see in many water birds but kingfishers do not have this adaptation. If they were to have webbed feet, this would counteract their streamlined shape, causing more drag as they dive.

While the structure and size of the feet may differ between kingfisher species, one thing that they all largely have in common is engaging in gular fluttering. Kingfishers can be observed rapidly moving their feet and legs as a way of keeping themselves cool.


The kingfisher has eyes on the front of its head, providing it with binocular vision and excellent depth perception. Moreover, this positioning, which is a common arrangement in predatory species, ensures that they’re able to accurately spot prey and judge distances when they are hunting. They’re even believed to have red droplets in their cone cells which reduce glare and make it even easier to see prey in the water.

It’s thought that kingfishers see in color which again enhances their ability to spot prey and it doesn’t matter about the light conditions as kingfishers’ eyes are adapted to see well in low light which is why they’re often seen hunting at dawn and dusk.

Kingfishers will survey the water from above and having good eyesight is imperative for aerial hunters. If you observe them, you may notice that they’ll not only fly to a high vantage point but will also rapidly move their heads, scanning as much of the environment as possible for prey. They’re even able to adjust their focus between long and short distances which is essential when hunting. Once they spot their prey, they’ll fix their sight upon it and go in for the dive. When they enter the water, the kingfisher is able to adjust its vision to account for how light is refracted in the water so that they don’t lose sight of their target. What’s more, a nictitating membrane covers the eye to protect it from damage as the bird enters the water at speed.

Wings & Plumage

Kingfishers are well known for their colorful plumage and depending on the species, they may come in various shades of black, white, and orange but green and blue are among the most common colors. Interestingly, the blue feathers of the kingfisher contain no pigment but appear blue because of how the light shines onto them. One of the primary reasons for this coloration is for use in courtship displays as well as for communication.

On top of this, different species may be colored according to their surroundings, so they’re able to camouflage to a degree, making it easier to be stealthy when hunting but also keeping them safer from predators like stoats, weasels, and cats.

Being water birds, their plumage is often water repellent which is useful in keeping the bird dry as it dives in and out of the water when hunting, allowing it to take flight without being dragged down by heavy water. Moreover, as they dive, the feathers are designed in such a way that splashing is kept to a minimum, aiding in their silent entrance to the water.

The kingfisher’s wings have a rounded shape and they’re considerably compact compared to the size of the body which means they’re very maneuverable and agile when flying. This is known as high wing loading and means that the bird is able to fly much more quickly. For some species, like the forest kingfisher, this speed and agility allow them to move through vegetation without hindrance. During flight, there are some species, such as the kookaburra that are able to hover for brief periods which gives them an advantage when scanning for prey. 

As well as having specialized wings, the kingfisher also has a special tail with feathers that aid in stability when flying. This adaptation also means that making precise movements, particularly in tight spaces, like through the trees, is much easier. 


Kingfisher behaviors
During Breeding Season, Males Become Territorial and Engage in Courtship Displays

Efficient hunters and often highly territorial, the kingfisher is an incredibly interesting bird to observe when it comes to behavior.

Hunting Techniques

Where birds are concerned, the kingfisher is, without a doubt, one of the most effective hunters and this is largely because of how their streamlined bodies allow for excellent diving. This is coupled with their vision which allows for precision when hunting.

As I have mentioned, there are some species that are able to hover periodically, scanning the area for potential prey before moving in to dive. That said, most species of kingfisher will wait patiently while checking out their surroundings. They’ll perch high above the water, keeping watch until they spot a target and dive. headfirst, at incredible speeds of up to 25 mph (40 km/h). Surprisingly, they can do this without sustaining any trauma to their skull and scientists think that this is a genetic trait that evolved over time.

When the kingfisher dives in to catch its prey it does so by using its sharp beak to grasp the prey. Its powerful mandibles enable it to hold securely onto its catch without it slipping away. The size of the prey varies between species with some larger kingfishers even having the ability to capture small vertebrates. However, we also have to consider that the kingfisher’s diet is impacted by seasonal availability, and during the breeding season, parents will focus more on obtaining food for their offspring.

Both the mother and the father will spend between four and six weeks taking care of the young in the nest. Once the offspring is developed enough, they’ll observe their parents and put their skills into practice. Interestingly, this is something that they have to practice repeatedly and hone their skills as they gain more hunting experience.

Territorial Behavior

As I have just discussed, kingfishers will take care of their young and protecting their territory during this time is essential to securing access to the best food. The more food resources they have, the greater chance of reproductive success and the better the health of the offspring.

Males will often become territorial during breeding season and will put on impressive courtship displays which include vocalizations, aerial displays, and even presenting the female with fish.

The visual displays are also a way of warning other kingfishers that this is his territory as well as telling other species that this male is in charge here. Both males and females become defensive of their nesting site and won’t think twice about aggression should they feel that their nest might be compromised. However, it’s common for disputes to arise since nesting spots become scarce during breeding season. Defense may come in the form of aggression, vocalizations, physical markers, and even scent marking.

These birds are well known for establishing their own hunting grounds whether this be alongside the ocean, rivers, or lakes, and will protect them at all costs. However, food availability means that it’s not uncommon for kingfishers to be flexible with their territory and may move around if resources become scarce.

Conservationists often observe kingfisher behavior in an effort to better understand their territory and protect it. Things like drought and pollution can both decrease the size of available hunting territory.

Kingfisher Species

With more than 100 species of kingfisher, it would be impossible for me to detail them all in this guide. However, I’d like to focus on what I think are some of the most interesting species. Let’s learn more about these beautiful birds.

1. Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)

The common kingfisher is, as its name suggests, one of the most common species and is found in freshwater habitats all over Europe, Asia, and North Africa. That said, there are some examples of these birds being found in coastal regions. For the most part, these birds will remain year-round but some of the more northerly populations may migrate during winter to places where the water is not frozen. 

Common kingfishers have a white throat with bright blue plumage on the back and orange feathers on the underside. They’re a small species that doesn’t grow to more than around 6.7 inches (17 cm) and have a long, dagger-like beak that allows them to easily catch fish like minnows, small roach, and sticklebacks. Sometimes, where available, they may feed on small amphibians and crustaceans, diving at speeds of up to 25 mph (40 km/h) to catch their prey.

Being a primarily freshwater species, the common kingfisher can be seen nesting on the riverbank. Parents will excavate the nest after choosing a mate, which is done with the help of aerial courtship displays and vocalizations such as high-pitched calls which are also used to defend territory. Males may also present females with fish to demonstrate their ability to provide and to strengthen their bond.

While listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, the common kingfisher doesn’t exist without threats. This species faces habitat degradation and water pollution which affects food availability. However, by observing their behavior and territory, conservationists are able to protect their habitat and lessen human disturbance.

2. Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)

Found across North America as far north as Alaska and as far south as Mexico, the belted kingfisher is a diverse species that’s found in both freshwater and coastal habitats. While largely year-round, some individuals may move further south during the winter.

This medium-sized species can grow to around 14 inches (36 cm) with a wingspan as large as 23 inches (58 cm) and boasts blue-gray plumage. The females have a reddish band around the chest, making them one of the rare examples of sexual dimorphism where the female is more colorful than the male. 

Unlike the common kingfisher, the belted kingfisher has a slightly curved bill for catching fish which they’re easily able to spot thanks to their large eyes. They engage in a behavior known as cabling, where they can be seen hovering above the water before diving in to catch their prey which includes trout, stonerollers, crayfish, and small insects. 

In terms of breeding, the belted kingfisher is pretty unique as it is a cavity nester, often nesting in disused burrows, which they fiercely defend with vocalizations and aerial displays. These displays and rattling calls are also used in courtship rituals.

Again being of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, the belted kingfisher isn’t exempt from threats which include nesting disturbances, pollution, and human development. There are several attempts to protect their nesting sites. This is especially important as studies have shown that the belted kingfisher is very particular about where it nests.

3. Common Paradise Kingfisher (Tanysiptera galatea)

Within its range, the common paradise kingfisher is known to engage in seasonal migration in response to factors such as population density and food availability. However, they’re commonly found in tropical and sub-tropical rainforests across Southeast Asia, particularly where vegetation is dense.

In their tree-covered habitat, this species will nest in tree cavities which are chosen after the males attract a mate with impressive aerial displays. Both males and females play a part in constructing and caring for the nest.

The common paradise kingfisher has a very distinctive call which may include squawking and melodic whistling which they use for courtship rituals, defending their territory, and other communication.

This species grows to around 10 inches (26 cm) in length and is much lighter than species like the belted kingfisher at around 2.12 ounces (60 grams). While there is subtle sexual dimorphism in terms of coloration, both males and females may come in shades of red, green, and blue. They have a pointed beak which allows them to catch prey such as caterpillars, earthworms, beetles, and other insects. They may sometimes also capture small lizards.

This is another species that is listed as being of Least Concern but isn’t without its threats. Living in a rainforest habitat, deforestation is a leading cause of habitat loss but there are conservation efforts in place to prevent further degradation and loss through the implementation of protected areas and the introduction of sustainable forestry practices.

4. Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis)

The pied kingfisher is found in both coastal and freshwater habitats from the Middle East and parts of Africa through South-East Asia. This is a medium-sized species that grows to around 11 inches (29 cm) and has black and white plumage with distinct markings. The markings on the breast are slightly different between males and females but it’s really the length of the bill and the weight that helps to tell individuals apart.

The bill is long and straight and provides the bird with enough power to catch fish as well as small crustaceans and dragonfly larvae. This is one of the few species that has the ability to hover over the water while scanning for prey before diving in with excellent precision to make a catch.

Pied kingfishers can be found nesting in sandy riverbanks. During breeding season, males will present fish to the female and partake in impressive aerial displays to attract a mate. They may also use sharp chirps and rattling calls which they also use for territory defense.

Like most kingfisher species, the pied kingfisher is listed as Least Concern but it does face threats from water pollution and habitat degradation, much of which is a result of human activity. Habitat protection programs are in place as well as initiatives to protect nesting sites.

5. Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae)

Despite not having kingfisher in its name, the laughing kookaburra is indeed a species of kingfisher and it’s found natively in eastern Australia although it has been introduced to the western parts of the country as well as Tasmania and New Zealand because of its ability to kill snakes.

What’s unique about this species is that it is not exclusively found in water habitats but also in forests and other areas, making it one of the more diverse species. Larger in size than many kingfishers, the kookaburra can grow up to 18 inches (46 cm) and has white and brown plumage making it one of the less colorful examples of a kingfisher.

With a curved beak, the kookaburra is easily able to capture a range of prey species which include small mammals, reptiles, birds, and insects. When catching snakes, they’re known to bash the animal against a surface to kill it and will then swallow it whole.

Laughing kookaburras take their name from their laugh-like call which they use to communicate with other members of the species. These calls are used between families to establish territory but may also be used as a social call and for courtship.

While not common, the kookaburra is a rare example of a diurnal species of kingfisher, which means they are more likely to be spotted or heard by humans, particularly at dusk and dawn. The call of the kookaburra is so common in Australia that it’s become synonymous with its culture and is often used in the media to create an Australian bush environment. 

Habitat loss and human disturbance are among the most common threats to the kookaburra. But this species also faces predation from introduced species as well as domestic animals like cats. Preserving their natural habitat and their nesting sites is imperative to their continued survival.

6. Stork-Billed Kingfisher (Pelargopsis capensis)

The stork-billed kingfisher is a medium to large bird that grows to around 15 inches (38 cm) with a wingspan of up to 13 inches (34 cm). They’re found across South Asia and have a bright blue back, tail, and wings with a buff underside. Across the eyes, there is a black stripe and the beak is bright red, making it one of the most distinctive and colorful species. While there is a degree of sexual dimorphism, this isn’t overly apparent. What’s more, the individuals found in the Sulu Islands lack the buff coloration on the underside which is white instead.

The beak is much thicker than that of other kingfishers and has a slight curve to it which allows the bird to catch a range of prey, including fish, crabs, birds, and rodents. The stork-billed kingfisher will wait on a perch for prey to appear before quickly diving down to catch it. They hunt in various habitats, such as mangroves, coastal areas, and wetlands, where they’ll be seen nesting in the riverbank or tree hollows.

With such bright coloration, it’s easy to spot the stork-billed kingfisher flying through the air. But you’ll also hear its call which is remarkably loud and may include rattling sounds, ka-ka-ka sounds, and peu-peu sounds. These calls are used for a variety of reasons including defending territory, mating, and social communication.

Habitat loss is a big threat that is caused by several factors like pollution and human development. By raising awareness and implementing habitat protection programs, there is no reason that these birds cannot continue to thrive.

7. Sacred Kingfisher (Todiramphus sanctus)

Found in a variety of habitats such as woodlands, mangroves, forests, and urban areas across Australia and New Zealand, the sacred kingfisher is a medium-sized species measuring up to 9 inches (23 cm) in length. The species has a bright turquoise back and wings and a rust-colored chest with a darker plumage around the eyes. In New Zealand, in the Maori culture, it is an important symbol of luck and signals the arrival of warm weather.

During the breeding season, sacred kingfishers can be found nesting in burrows and tree hollows. Before this, males and females will spend time preening each other to strengthen their bond and after the chicks are born, both parents take part in their care.

Sacred kingfishers have a robust, straight beak which they use for catching a variety of prey including small fish, crustaceans, reptiles, and insects. They will sit at a high vantage point, waiting for prey before swooping down and diving to catch their prey. These are incredibly agile birds that are capable of moving at high speeds when hunting. Unlike a lot of kingfisher species, the sacred kingfisher is primarily nocturnal.

Like other kingfisher species, the sacred kingfisher faces the threat of habitat loss which is a result of urbanization and other human activities. The problem with this is that it directly impacts food availability. What’s more, these birds are under threat from predation which is why conservationists are making attempts to control introduced species to reduce the threat.

8. White-Throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis)

Perhaps one of the most widely distributed and adaptable species, the white-throated kingfisher is found in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and some areas within the Indian subcontinent. They aren’t fussy about habitat and may live in open woodlands, wetlands, or grasslands. In many cases, they are also spotted in urban areas. With that in mind, it is worth remembering that this species is threatened by habitat loss as a result of urbanization and agriculture which may explain their presence in these areas.

As the name suggests, the white-throated kingfisher has a white throat and underparts with chestnut plumage to the head and neck. The wings and back come in a striking blue color which can range from a dull to bright turquoise. Juveniles tend to be less bright than adults, developing richer hues as they age. 

With a large, robust beak, the white-throated kingfisher, which grows to around 12 inches (30 cm) in length, is easily able to catch a diverse range of prey. This can include crustaceans, fish, insects, and even small mammals and reptiles. Thanks to their keen eyesight and precise diving, they don’t often miss their targets.

As well as being known for its beautiful plumage, the white-throated kingfisher is also famous for its kek-kek-kek call. These vocalizations are used to defend territory but will also be demonstrated during breeding season as a way for mates to communicate with one another. After mating, pairs will construct a nest in a variety of locations, including riverbanks and tree hollows showcasing the adaptability of this species.

9. Collared Kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris)

Another incredibly adaptable bird is the collared kingfisher which is so successful in living in different habitats that it has a very impressive range throughout Asia, Southeast Asia, Australia, and even as far out as the Pacific Islands. They enjoy a variety of habitats which can range from coastal areas and mangroves to forests and urban areas.

With beautiful blue to turquoise upperparts and a striking white collar, the collared kingfisher is certainly one of the most visually appealing species of kingfisher. They grow to around 11 inches (29 cm) in length and are equipped with a long, straight beak that enables them to catch an excellent range of prey, including fish, crustaceans, and insects. Although, where available, they may also hunt for small reptiles. In any case, they’ll seek out their prey from the air,  diving down at high speeds to pluck them up.

While this species does have a huge range, that doesn’t make it exempt from threats like habitat loss. In fact, even though it is listed as being of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, it’s reported that its numbers are decreasing. Protection programs for their nesting sites are imperative as these birds often construct their nests in tree hollows and, if deforestation continues, this will significantly limit available resources.

10. Green Kingfisher (Chloroceryle Americana)

Green kingfishers are found in freshwater habitats across the Americas but they will sometimes inhabit coastal areas and mangroves. With deep green upperparts and a white collar, they’re a very distinct-looking species, especially when you consider the tuft of feathers at the back of the head that grows to around 8 inches (20 cm) in length.

As with all kingfisher species, the green kingfisher has excellent eyesight and is a skilled hunter, perching itself on branches to keep a lookout for small fish, crustaceans, and insects which it dives down and nabs with its pointed bill. Sometimes, they may even be seen to be hovering over the water, ready to make a catch. The color of their plumage also helps them to blend in, making catching prey even easier.

The green kingfisher is listed as being of Least Concern but its numbers are decreasing and it faces the threat of habitat loss which is largely down to land development and pollution in the water within their habitat. Fortunately, there are many supported reserves throughout the green kingfisher’s range that offer a sanctuary for nesting and feeding. 

This species generally nests along sandy riverbanks and, during courtship, they can be observed exchanging food with their mates as well as making chattering and rattling sounds and preening one another.

While they’re typically year-round residents, green kingfishers may make seasonal movements in order to find food and are sometimes spotted slightly north of their traditional range.

11. American Pygmy Kingfisher (Chloroceryle aenea)

The American pygmy kingfisher is one of the smallest kingfisher species, weighing up to just 1.06 ounces (30 grams). At most, this species will grow to around 6 inches (15 cm) in length but they’re still very efficient hunters and use their slender, pointed beaks to catch small fish and insects.

They’re found primarily in freshwater habitats, especially where there is a lot of dense vegetation which provides them with plenty of spots to perch when hunting. They’ll dive down into the water at high speeds, precisely grabbing their prey and there have also been reports that this species will grab flying insects on the wing.

With deep green upperparts and white and chestnut underparts, the American pygmy kingfisher is easy to identify. That said, they’re quite timid birds and will often move away when confronted by humans so, if you’re looking to observe them in the wild, it pays to be quiet and stealthy. Their coloration helps them to blend into their surroundings, providing them with an even greater advantage when hunting and of course, from predation.

Found throughout Central and South America, the American pygmy kingfisher has a healthy population and is considered to be of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. That said, threats like habitat loss are causing their numbers to begin to decrease so efforts to protect their nesting and feeding sites are of the utmost importance. 

12. Black-Capped Kingfisher (Halcyon pileata)

The black-capped kingfisher, as you may have guessed from its name, has a distinct black cap on the crown as well as a black mask around the eyes. The wings come in a deep black to blue color but the remaining plumage is white, giving these birds a very unique appearance among kingfishers.

This is a medium-sized species which grows to around 3.52 ounces (100 grams), although some individuals may be slightly smaller. They’re found in South and Southeast Asia and, while they’re largely year-round residents, some vagrants are found in places like Pakistan. These are very adaptable birds that can be found in a variety of freshwater and coastal habitats and this also means that their prey is incredibly diverse.

Black-capped kingfishers may feed on everything from small fish and crustaceans to insects and even small reptiles. As is the case with many kingfisher species, they’ll perch on a branch and scan their surroundings for food before diving down and grabbing their target with their long, slightly curved, pointed beaks.

While many species of kingfisher have healthy populations, the black-capped kingfisher is considered to be Vulnerable, according to the IUCN Red List. This is largely due to threats from habitat loss which come as a result of urbanization, water pollution, and land clearing.

Not only is the black-capped kingfisher one of the most visually distinct species, but it also has a range of unique calls that set it apart from its cousins. These include harsh calls and cackling sounds which are used for a variety of reasons, including mating, territory defense, and communication. 

13. Banded Kingfisher (Lacedo pulchella)

The banded kingfisher is found in forested habitats, including lowland rainforests and montane forests where they hunt for insects and small invertebrates. They prefer areas with a lot of tree cover which they’ll use for perching while scanning for food, and may sometimes be observed hunting small fish and even lizards. But what really sets this species apart is that it’ll often perch motionless for extended periods of time.

It’s thought that this is defensive behavior to avoid predation, and thanks to their black-and-white banded appearance, they’re also able to effectively camouflage themselves while remaining still. A small species, measuring up to 10 inches (25 cm) in length, the banded kingfisher is found throughout Southeast Asia but its range is typically dictated by the availability of forest habitat.

Being a forest-dwelling species, it’ll likely come as no surprise that the banded kingfisher, which also has prominent blue markings and a chestnut-to-white underside, nests in tree hollows. During courtship, the birds will display their plumage to attract a mate and, once they find one, the pair may be seen preening and feeding one another. 

Loud vocalizations are also common during breeding season where these birds can be heard making various melodic whistling sounds which they’ll also use to defend their territory. But they’re not an aggressive species and are well known to hide quietly among the trees, making them one of the most quiet species of kingfisher.

The forest environment provides this species with everything it needs, but unfortunately, deforestation has played a significant role in destroying its habitat. As such, its numbers are thought to be decreasing. 

14. Woodland Kingfisher (Halcyon senegalensis)

Found in wooded areas and grasslands, the bright blue plumage of the woodland kingfisher makes for a glorious sight in contrast to the green backdrop of its habitat. This species is found across sub-Saharan Africa and, around the equator, is a year-round resident. However, some of the northern and southern populations are known to migrate.

With a distinct black band around the eyes, the woodland kingfisher is easy to identify and this medium-sized species uses its strong, curved beak to pick up prey like small fish, insects, and small invertebrates. It is well known for its hunting precision, perching on a branch before diving down to snatch up its next meal.

If you’re within the woodland kingfisher’s range, listen out for its distinct calls which include melodic whistles and loud calls. These are very unique among kingfishers and are used for various things including defending territory, communication between pairs, and during courtship displays. Courtship may also include food exchange so that the pair can strengthen its bond.

While many kingfisher species face threats that are causing their numbers to decline, the woodland kingfisher population is currently stable. That said, there is a risk of things like habitat degradation causing future problems, so conservation programs to protect their nesting sites are essential.

15. Azure Kingfisher (Ceyx azureus)

While some species of kingfisher are colored in such a way that they blend into their surroundings, the azure kingfisher is a striking contrast against the lush green backdrop of their freshwater habitat. These birds have vibrant plumage that includes azure-blue upperparts and a white patch on the throat. The underside is typically orange to chestnut in color, and they grow to around 9 inches (23 cm) in length.

Found in New Guinea, Australia, and the southwestern Pacific, these kingfishers are adept hunters and can be observed diving from their perch to catch small fish and crustaceans as well as insects and aquatic invertebrates. They’re even sometimes known to prey on frogs and other amphibians where they are available.

The azure kingfisher is not considered to be a threatened or endangered species, but its numbers are in decline, according to the IUCN Red List. Threats primarily include habitat degradation and loss as a result of human activity but there are conservation programs in place to help protect their important nesting sites. They nest in burrows along the riverbank but may also choose sites along sandy cliffs, particularly in secluded areas that offer the greatest protection to their offspring. 

While the azure kingfisher does make certain calls, such as pee-pee, when flying, this is one of the quieter species. That said, they may be heard more readily during breeding season when vocalizations are used to attract a mate along with other activities such as plumage displays and mutual preening.

16. Ruddy Kingfisher (Halcyon coromanda)

The ruddy kingfisher is a medium-sized species found in parts of East and Southeast Asia. They grow to around 11 inches (29 cm) maximum and live in a diverse range of habitats from rivers and ponds to coastal areas. It has been known for this species to exhibit seasonal movement when food sources become scarce. With a curved beak and excellent eyesight, the ruddy kingfisher is able to adapt well to different environments and hunts for everything from small fish to insects and even frogs and crustaceans where they are available. 

In terms of appearance, the ruddy kingfisher is a very distinct-looking species with a white throat and underside, a black mask around the eyes, and chestnut coloring to the upperparts. Of course, individuals have their own unique coloration with some being darker than others. The bill is often red to orange in color and is not only used for hunting but also for excavating nests along the riverbank. 

They are a burrowing species and males are often seen performing impressive courtship displays during the mating season which include various vocalizations and plumage displays. Mating pairs will also exchange food and preen one another to strengthen their bond.

As is the case for many kingfisher species, the ruddy kingfisher faces threats from habitat loss which are often caused by human development of the land and deforestation. However, despite this, the species is still listed as being of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List although their numbers are thought to be decreasing. With habitat protection around riverbanks, this could be reversed and is something that conservationists are working hard on.

17. White-Rumped Kingfisher (Caridonax fulgidus)

Abdul Azis Gizan from Indonesia / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

The white-rumped kingfisher is a visually striking species with white rump and underparts and black upperparts. They can grow to around 11 inches (29 cm) in length and have a wingspan of up to 17 inches (44 cm), making them a medium-sized species. However, owing to their elusive nature and densely forested habitat in Southeast Asia, they’re not the easiest species to spot. That said, you may hear them in the forests thanks to their loud calls, melodic whistles, and other sounds, which they use during mating, communication, and for defending their territory. 

Perching on high vegetation, the white-rumped kingfisher waits patiently for small reptiles, insects, and small invertebrates to pass by before pouncing on them and using their pointed bills to snap up their meal. Not only do they hunt from a high point but this species also nests high in the trees, often in hollows which prevents predators from gaining access to their eggs and young.

Sadly, and as is the case for many forest kingfishers, the white-rumped kingfisher faces threats that come as a result of deforestation. However, since the species is still listed as being of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, conservation programs to protect fragmentation and habitat loss could prove to be successful.

18. Blue-Eared Kingfisher (Alcedo meninting)

The blue-eared kingfisher is a unique species of kingfisher that’s small in size and only weighs up to around 1.41 ounces (40 grams). What’s interesting about this species is its range. While they are native to Southeast Asia, they’re known for seasonal movements in response to things like food availability, even showing up in places where they’re not usually seen.

As their name suggests, blue-eared kingfishers have blue ear coverts that are not all that dissimilar to those of the common kingfisher. Their upperparts are also blue and they have orange underparts and a white throat that make for a beautiful and striking appearance.

This is a freshwater species that inhabits areas around streams, rivers, ponds, and mangroves where there is a lot of overhanging vegetation for them to perch on when hunting. Like most kingfishers, they will rapidly dive into the water to catch their prey and have large eyes and excellent vision that makes spotting small fish and crustaceans easy.

The blue-eared kingfisher is a highly territorial species that will defend its hunting grounds and burrow nest using a range of vocalizations which are also used during courtship rituals. Males and females are involved in constructing the sandy nest and caring for the young.

While the blue eared kingfisher is listed as being of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, it is also reported that their numbers are decreasing. This is likely a cause of habitat loss and changes to the water ecosystem which can affect their prey availability and nesting spots. There are efforts to preserve their habitat already underway but education is also important to allow these birds to continue to thrive.

19. Malachite Kingfisher (Corythornis cristatus)

The malachite kingfisher is a sub-Saharan species found in many parts of Africa. However, it’s worth noting that they’re not found in the more arid regions of countries like Botswana and Kenya. A small species, the malachite kingfisher only grows to weigh around 0.71 ounces (20 grams) but despite being small, this is one of the most visually striking types of kingfisher.

With bright malachite green and blue plumage on the upperparts, orange underparts, and a white throat, they’re certainly one of the most colorful and vibrant looking kingfishers. They spend their time in freshwater habitats, often surrounded by a lot of vegetation on which they perch during hunting. 

Malachite kingfishers are equipped with a long, slender bill which they use for catching small fish and insects. They can be seen diving quickly into the water and may sometimes throw their prey into the air before catching it in their bill and rapidly swallowing it.

Generally, year-round residents, the malachite kingfisher may engage in seasonal migration which allows it to move to areas with better food resources. Breeding typically occurs after high floods when there are more fish, and these birds will engage in food exchange and mutual preening to form a bond. However, for the rest of the year, they’re largely solitary.

Nests are built in riverbanks but there is some concern that the malachite kingfisher may face threats from habitat loss not only from human activity but also because of changes to the water ecosystems they call home.

20. Rufous-Collared Kingfisher (Actenoides concretus)

The rufous-collared kingfisher is a Southeast Asian species that has one of the smallest distributions of all kingfisher species. It’s found in lowland and montane forests in countries like Thailand, Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia but sadly faces threats from habitat loss from deforestation and other human activities. 

With rufous-colored upperparts and bright blue on the underside, these birds have a very unique appearance among kingfishers. However, there are some individuals that lack the rufous-colored band on the underside. Their coloration helps them to remain camouflaged in their densely wooded habitats. 

They’re a medium-sized species that grows to around 11 inches (28 cm) in length, on average, and are equipped with large bills that allow them to capture prey such as insects, small vertebrates, and even small reptiles where they are available.

During breeding and for other forms of communication, the rufous-collared kingfisher is well known for its vocal abilities. With a range of whistles, trills, and other calls, these birds effectively communicate with one another and are able to defend their territory.

However, it is worth noting that because of their limited range, the rufous-collared kingfisher is more susceptible to local threats and, as a result, is one of the only kingfisher species to be listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List.

21. Little Kingfisher (Ceyx pusillus)

Summerdrought / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

As you can probably guess from its name, the little kingfisher is one of the smallest kingfisher species and measures no more than 6 inches (15 cm) in length. One of the main reasons that these birds are so small is so that they’re easily able to move through dense vegetation, showcasing their adaptability to different habitats. But being small doesn’t mean they’re not incredibly beautiful with their bright green and blue plumage that contrasts with a white throat and orange underparts.

With a narrow, pointed bill, these birds are easily able to catch small fish, but their diet may also include aquatic invertebrates and insects. With excellent eyesight, they have no problem spotting their prey from a perched position from which they dive to snag their next meal. 

The little kingfisher is a freshwater species and can be found all over Southeast Asia where they’ll inhabit rivers, mangroves, ponds, and streams as long as there is plenty of overhanging vegetation for them to perch upon. However, like many kingfishers, they do not nest in the trees. Instead, they make riverbank nests.

Sadly, these nesting sites could be impacted by threats such as land development and deforestation although it is promising that there are conservation efforts in place to protect their habitat.

Like other species, the little kingfisher displays interesting courtship rituals that may include sharp, high-pitched vocalizations which are also used to defend territory. Food exchange and mutual preening are also common among breeding pairs as a way of strengthening their bond ready for the shared responsibility of raising the young.

22. African Pygmy Kingfisher (Ispidina picta)

For birdwatching enthusiasts, the African pygmy kingfisher is perhaps one of the most delightful species to spot. This is thanks to its stunning plumage, which includes blue or turquoise upperparts, chestnut markings on the head and back, as well as white underparts. And let’s not forget that attractive orange bill (although some individuals may have a black bill.)

As the name suggests, the African pygmy kingfisher is one of the smallest species and doesn’t typically grow to be more than 5.5 inches (14 cm) at most. But being small doesn’t mean that they’re not incredibly efficient hunters. These birds have excellent vision and a slender bill that allows them to easily catch insects and small invertebrates as they pounce on them from their perch. Plus, their small size makes navigating through dense vegetation a breeze!

Found in sub-Saharan Africa, the African pygmy kingfisher is one of the most adaptable species, thriving in a whole host of environments from grasslands to wooded areas.

There’s no obvious sexual dimorphism between males and females so that beautifully bright plumage certainly comes in handy during breeding season. Once a pair has mated, they’ll work together to make a nest, usually in a termite mound or tree hollow where they can create a safe chamber for their eggs. Using a range of high-pitched calls and whistles, the African pygmy kingfisher is an excellent communicator both during breeding and for defending their territory.

While the range of the African pygmy kingfisher is strong across sub-Saharan Africa, there are certain threats that we should be mindful of. As is the case with many other species, habitat loss and fragmentation  is a problem for this species, especially in areas where agricultural land is overtaking their feeding and breeding grounds.

23. Forest Kingfisher (Todiramphus macleayii)

The forest kingfisher, found in various wooded habitats across Australia, New Guinea, and the surrounding islands, is one of the most stunning species of kingfisher in terms of appearance. With a beautiful contrast between the white throat and bright blue upperparts, these medium-sized birds are very easy to spot. This plumage is often used during mating displays during the breeding season that falls between August and February.

They are highly territorial birds that are easily adapted to both inland and coastal areas and can be found perched on branches waiting for their prey to pass by, at which point, they’ll quickly pounce to nab it. Forest kingfishers may feed on a variety of insects, small vertebrates, and fish, depending on the food availability. They’re even known to exhibit seasonal migration to access better food resources.

The forest kingfisher will make its nest in a variety of locations, including tree hollows and termite mounds. They’re known to fly with such force into the mounds that it’s not uncommon for them to break their necks and die. However, this doesn’t seem to have an impact on their populations since the species is listed as being of Least concern on the IUCN Red List. That said, it does face threats from factors such as habitat loss, which is usually a result of human activity like deforestation. Although, there are programs in place to protect their habitat and nesting sites, especially in areas where there are lots of suitable perches for the birds while they’re hunting.

Sometimes called the blue kingfisher, this species, as I mentioned earlier, is extremely territorial and will use a range of vocalizations to defend its territory. These include rattling sounds to show their dominance.

24. Grey-Headed Kingfisher (Halcyon leucocephala)

The gray-headed kingfisher is a diverse species that is found in various habitat types, including coastal areas, mangroves, woodlands, and even open areas as long as there are ample places for the bird to perch. They’re common across the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia where they can be seen preying on fish, insects, and aquatic invertebrates, proving their adaptability to various diets in different habitats. Unlike other kingfisher species, they will pounce from their perch to capture their prey in their strong, curved beak. 

Gray-headed kingfishers grow to around 10 inches (26 cm) and weigh up to 2.64 ounces (75 grams). They are known to nest in tree hollows but may also make use of other natural structures such as termite nests where the male and female play an equal role in raising the chicks.

With a gray to blue colored head, white throat, dark blue wings, and chestnut underparts, these are visually beautiful birds. They also have a unique call and can be heard making chattering sounds, which they use for communication in mating and for defending their territory. They are very aggressive when it comes to protecting their territory, particularly during breeding season. 

Sadly, the gray-headed kingfisher is faced with the threat of habitat loss which is prominent in their coastal habitats because of changes in the ecosystem. In these areas, there are lots of conservation programs in place to protect their nesting and hunting sites.

25. Cerulean Kingfisher (Alcedo coerulescens)

The cerulean kingfisher is found in dense tropical forests in Southeast Asia and Papua New Guinea. They prefer freshwater habitats with streams and rivers where they can hunt for small fish, invertebrates, and crustaceans. They will take a high vantage point on overhanging vegetation where they’ll wait for their prey before plunging into the water to catch their meal with their narrow, pointed bill.

An important part of the biodiversity in their tropical ecosystems, cerulean kingfishers are a small species that measure up to 8.6 inches (22 cm) and have bright coloration with cerulean underparts, which is where they take their name. The throat is white in color and the beak is black.

Communication is a big part of the social interactions between cerulean kingfishers and they use a variety of calls, including high-pitched whistles. These calls are used in their courtship rituals alongside mutual preening and food exchanges.

During breeding, a pair will make their nest in a tree hollow but may also use other structures like termite mounds where both parents play an active role in caring for the chicks. However, these nesting sites may be disrupted through human activities like logging and deforestation which is why there are conservation programs in place to protect their habitat.

26. Crested Kingfisher (Megaceryle lugubris)

The crested kingfisher is a large species that grows to around 14 inches (36 cm) and has a bright coloration that includes blue to gray upper parts and a white throat with chestnut underparts. Although from a distance, the barred pattern makes it appear silvery in color. This species is found in freshwater habitats around fast-flowing rivers and streams in countries such as Japan, China, and Korea.

Like most other kingfisher species, the crested kingfisher primarily feeds on fish but may also hunt for crustaceans and large insects. It has extremely good eyesight that allows it to spot prey from a perched position. Once it spots its target, the crested kingfisher will plunge down into the water, using its strong beak to catch its prey.

The crested kingfisher takes its name from the regal-looking crest on its head which is largely used to show dominance. The bird will raise the crest when defending its territory but it’s also used in courtship displays which also include mutual preening and vocalizations.

With threats from river channeling, construction, and water pollution, the crested kingfisher’s nesting spots may become scarce. Unlike many kingfishers, these are burrow-nesters and the burrows are crafted by both parents who then go on to care for the young together. However, conservationists are looking at ways to better manage rocky, fast-flowing rivers to avoid future problems with habitat loss.

27. Giant Kingfisher (Megaceryle maxima)

One of the largest species of kingfisher, the giant kingfisher can grow up to 18 inches (46 cm) and have a wingspan as large as 27 inches (69 cm). With a white throat and slate to dark blue upperparts, these birds have a  very distinct appearance.

Found in sub-Saharan Africa, the giant kingfisher is found in freshwater habitats particularly those with a lot of overhanging vegetation where they can perch and wait for prey. Once they spot their prey, which may include crustaceans, fish, and amphibians, they will plunge into the water, using their dagger-like beaks to snatch up their meal. Because their beaks are so strong and powerful, they’re able to capture much larger prey than other kingfisher species.

One of the main problems faced by the giant kingfisher is habitat degradation which comes as a result of human activities like dam building and urbanization. These activities alter the ecosystem of the river and disrupt the giant kingfisher’s nesting sites.

These birds tend to nest in burrows and will use their robust beaks to excavate a nest. This is done after an impressive courtship ritual that involves preening, aerial displays, and loud vocalizations. The call of the giant kingfishers has many components including cackling sounds and harsh calls. Not only are these used during mating but also as a form of defending their territory.

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