Kingfishers

May 2, 2015

Kingfishers are a group of small to medium-sized brightly colored birds in the order Coraciiformes. They are small unmistakable bright blue and orange birds of slow moving or still water.  They have a cosmopolitan distribution, with most species found outside of the Americas. The group is treated either as a single family, Alcedinidae, or as a suborder Alcedines containing three families, Alcedinidae (river kingfishers), Halcyonidae (tree kingfishers), and Cerylidae (water kingfishers). The smallest species of kingfisher is the African dwarf kingfisher which has an average weight of 0.37 ounces (10.4 grams) and measures 4 inches. The largest overall is the giant kingfisher which has an average weight of 12.5 ounces (355 grams) and measures 18 inches. Most kingfishers have a bright plumage with green and blue being the most common colors. The brightness of the colors is caused by the structure of the feathers which causes scattering of blue light called the Tyndall effect. In most species there are no differences between the sexes when there are they are quite small.

 

Image Source: http://animal-dream.com/data_images/kingfisher/kingfisher8.jpg

 

The kingfishers have a long, dagger-like bill. The bill is usually longer and more compressed in species that hunt fish, and shorter and more broad in species that hunt prey off the ground. Kingfishers live both in wetlands and woodlands worldwide, feeding mainly on fish but also insects, frogs and crayfish with those kingfisher species that live in the woodlands occasionally eating reptiles, birds and even small mammals. They tend to nest in tree hollows and holes dug into the ground, which tend to be in river banks or at the sides of lakes. Kingfishers dig small tunnels with their nest at the end, which can range in length depending on the species. The giant kingfisher is known to dig tunnels that are over 25 feet (8 meters) long! Female kingfishers lay up to 10 eggs and both male and female help to incubate the eggs which will then hatch in between 3 and 4 weeks.

Living in many places around the world, their main habitats are throughout the world’s tropics and temperate regions. They are absent from the polar regions and some of the world’s driest deserts but can thrive through short cold periods (as seen below in the snow and ice pictures).  They feed on a wide variety of items and are most famous for hunting and eating fish, and some species do specialize in catching fish but other species of kingfishers eat all sorts of insects. They are generally shy birds but they feature quite heavily in human culture and due to their generally small size, they have numerous predators wherever they exist around the world including foxes, raccoons, cats and snakes as well as other small mammals and large birds.

Image Source: http://alistairpott.com/blog/2009/05/20/amazing-photo-of-kingfisher-diving/

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