Kingfishers of the World

Azure Kingfisher, Australia

A bird widely distributed across the world today, the kingfisher inhabits almost every continent (map below). This successful and thriving species has fossils that date back 30-40 million years.

Forest Kingfisher, Australia

 

Contrary to their name, not all kingfishers catch and eat fish; some species prefer frogs, snakes, worms, and more. Wikipedia overview.

 

Green Kingfisher (female), Belize

 

Though sources differ, there are approximately 100 species of kingfishers. Largely tropical birds, the majority inhabit the Old World tropics and Australasia.

 

The species we see most in North America is the belted kingfisher,.   In Europe, the kingfisher most commonly seen is appropriately called: common kingfisher. There are 10 species in Australia, 18 in Africa.

 

Whenever I am walking around a lake or river and hear the characteristic ratcheting of the belted kingfisher, whatever I am doing, I look up and search for this avian friend.

 

Australia, Kakadu Nat’l. Park

Kingfishers have a disproportionately large head and long, pointy bill; with short legs and stubby tails. They range in size from 3.9 inches long (10 cm) (African dwarf kingfisher) to 18 inches (45 cm) (giant kingfisher).

 

Giant Kingfisher, Botswana

When you come across a kingfisher, they are often perched on a branch, scanning the ground or water below. One of the easier birds to spot, they have bright colors, a distinct shape, and a predictable behavior.

 

Kingfishers have excellent vision, including binocular and color; and are able to recognize water reflection and depth. Some species have eye membranes for water protection. The pied kingfisher, for example, has a bony plate that slides across the eye on water impact.

 

Pied Kingfisher, Botswana

 

Blue-winged Kookaburra with frog in mouth, Australia

 

Little Kingfisher, Australia

Once the kingfisher spots the prey, they swoop down and snatch it, return to the perch. Holding the prey in their strong bill, they beat it against the limb, breaking it down to a sizeable portion for consumption.

 

Sometimes kingfishers will hover above water and dive in for fish.

Green Kingfisher (male), Belize

 

A kingfisher discussion would not be complete without mentioning the laughing kookaburra. Although this kingfisher lives primarily in Australia, many of us all over the world have heard of it, from the song. “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree….”

 

Laughing Kookaburra, Australia

You can hear the great old children’s song, written by an Australian music teacher in 1934, here: the song

 

The real-life sound of a laughing kookaburra is truly wonderful. When I first heard it in a park in Sydney, it startled me.

 

Loud and cackling, it sounds nothing like laughter. You might think it was a monkey (or a wild beast) if you didn’t know better. Kookaburra call. 

Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Zambia

With a variety of specialized hunting skills, successful worldly range, and striking  colors, this bird is one that many of us have been celebrating our whole life.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

Kingfisher range. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

 

 

 

 

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87 thoughts on “Kingfishers of the World

  1. The Kingfisher is one of my favorite birds; the belted Kingfisher is the only species I’ve seen in the N.W. They are entertaining to watch as they stall in the sky above the ground focusing on fish or frogs under the surface of the water.

  2. Impressive photo collection of kingfishers, Jet. You are so well-traveled. 🙂 Informative post, I had no idea there were so many kingfishers and that the kookaburra was one, too.

  3. Lovely post! Beautiful birds and their colourful plumage… wonderful photos. I see you have captured the king of the bush, the kookaburra. Thanks for the interesting write, Jet. 😃

  4. Jet I had no idea that a kookaburra was a kingfisher. Let’s see now “Kingfisher sits in the old gum tree…”. No not quite the same effect when signing it that way. Incredible to think these birds date back 30-40 million years ago. Perhaps the swim goggle industry could learn a thing or two interviewing Kingfishers. Built in eye membranes and bony plates for swimming and diving. Now that would be handy!

    • I loved your kingfisher version of the lyrics, Sue…and I agree, the laughing kookaburra has a sweeter ring to it. They are remarkable birds, and it was fun learning about all their many marvels as I researched the post. Always a delight to hear from you, Sue.

  5. It’s always a joy to spot a kingfisher, but I had no idea there were so many species of them or so widely spread. The info you provide is fascinating as always and that call of the kookaburra is brilliant. Thanks, Jet, for another entertaining and informative post.

    • I learned a lot about the kingfishers, writing this, Alastair. And what a pleasure to share this fun bird with you. I’m glad you know them, and it’s fun that you heard the crazy kookaburra. Thank you, as always, Alastair.

  6. Pingback: Kingfishers of the World — Jet Eliot – escreversonhar

  7. The Kookaburra song always reminds me of my years as a Girl Scout leader. We never ran into any Kingfishers on our campouts but a heck of a lot of banana slugs….

  8. So delightful to see all these beautiful photographs of the kingfishers! I have not seen one since early spring, but I keep looking and hoping one will appear. How wonderful you have been able to see so many different species around the world. Thanks for sharing the great information and enjoyable kingfishers of the world!

    • One day I got to thinking about all the kingfishers I have seen, and what a joy it was to discover how many. Funny thing, the one I have seen the most, the belted, we didn’t have a good photo. That’s a new project down the road. Thank you ACI.

  9. Such a variety, and each is striking! Another informative post, and I didn’t know the kookaburra is a kingfisher. Love the kookaburra and frog photograph – nature isn’t kind, but always amazing.
    Thanks for this one, Jet, and I hope you have a great weekend!

    • We were hiking through a eucalyptus forest (Australians call them gum trees) when we watched that kookaburra with the frog. I was amazed Athena captured it because he was very high up. I am very happy you enjoyed it, PC. I am having a fun weekend in Wisconsin with family, also great birding. I think you are done with school, have a terrific weekend.

  10. Wonderful gallery my friend, all these birds are beautiful and they possess a lengthy history. They have seen earth differently from the one we know! Have a great weekend! 🙂

  11. The kingfisher colours are so very beautiful and they’re always so light in their flight. Except of course the kookaburra with its much bigger body and more neutral colours. But then kookaburra has that laugh, which you can’t help but love. 🙂

    • I liked hearing your Australian experiences with the kookaburra, Gail. That “laugh” of the kookaburra is a pure delight to visitors and residents. Many thanks.

  12. So many beautiful varieties Jet. I’ve seen nothing more than a glimpse of a kingfisher, earlier this year, but it’s obviously departed for other territories as I haven’t seen it since 🙂

  13. What a fantastic gallery of Kingfishers, Jet and Athena! It is fascinating how their coloring changes in different parts of the world while the basic characteristics remain the same.

  14. We both love kingfishers and are lucky to have sighted them quite a few times while walking from our home (in Southern Sri Lanka) to yoga class. Your first two photos are particilarly stunning. I love the cute ruffled little feathers! Thanks for all the interesting info.

    Peta

  15. what a delight, Jet! the colors are amazing. thanks for all the information about kingfishers. and who could forget the kookaburra song! love it! 🙂

    • I didn’t know the kingfishers were such an extensive species, either, until I researched for this post. Fun to share the kookaburra kingfisher info with you, too. Many thanks, Cindy, I’m happy you enjoyed it, and appreciate your kind words.

  16. Great post! My bird watcher husband liked the pics very much! So did I! He would like to know what has surprised you most about the kingfishers if you have the time to reply. Have a great evening!

    • Hi Kendall, I’m glad both you and your husband enjoyed the kingfisher post. I liked your husband’s thought-provoking question. What surprised me most about kingfishers is the sound of the laughing kookaburra. The sound of this bird in the wild is startling, bordering on alarming, especially when I had not heard it before. Of course after I knew what that sound was, I was delighted to be near a kookaburra. Thanks so much, Kendall.

      • Thanks Jet! You are welcome! I hardly knew any different types of birds until I married The Bird Man. He has been keeping records since he was a kid and has uploaded over 20,000 records to Cornell. You certainly have great experiences with birds I have never seen. Have a great day!

      • Thank you Kendall. Knowing you are married to The Bird Man gave me new insight into the beautiful outdoor paintings you create. Thanks so much for your comments. 🙂

  17. Lovely post, Jet. Funny, in old looney tunes cartoons that involved the jungle, you can hear the sound of a kookaburra. completely wrong but the sound is exotic enough to give the impression of a jungle. 🙂

    “In at least one scene in any movie about the “jungle” — no matter where in the world — the soundtrack must feature the demented call (“who-who-who-ah-ah-ah-ah-HA-HA”) of an Australian kookaburra.”
    — Ebert’s Bigger Little Movie Glossary

    • I love hearing the kookaburra sound in movies, even when, as you say, it’s completely wrong. Living in the U.S., I don’t hear it in the wild, and I so enjoy it. I enjoyed the quote from Ebert, Draco, and it exactly underscores our laughing kookaburra ponderings. A delight to have you visit here, Draco, thanks so much. I was once again dazzled by your Sydney light show series, and very much appreciated it.

      • I think that wily kookaburra is playing games with you, Draco. This made me lol. I can imagine the volume of that bird would wake you up from any deep slumber. Such powerful voices. I enjoyed this comment, thank you.

  18. So much variety! Interesting that they’re all so brilliantly colored — or maybe Athena just picks the prettiest to photograph. ;>)

    • All the kingfishers I have ever seen are indeed marked with brilliant colors. And Athena knows how to capture them, that’s for sure. I enjoyed your visits and comments, Nan, thank you.

  19. What beauties! Your shot of the Pied Kingfisher is wonderful and remarkable! I listened to the Kookaburra call. LOL! It was like a monkey, but whatever, it sounds like it is mocking, in a laughing way. really a wonderful post!

    • The pied kingfisher is special to me, because once we were standing by a small pond at sunset, and the sun hit the black and white bird in a way that gave a deep purple hue to the “black” markings. It only happened once, but it was remarkable and memorable. Glad you enjoyed the kingfishers, Resa, and especially the hilarious kookaburra’s call.

  20. Wow! These Kingfishers are so colorful and varied. Thank you for sharing all this good information. I have not yet been able to photograph one, but I will try harder now.

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