Kingfishers are a family, the Alcedinidae, of small to medium-sized, brightly coloured birds in the order Coraciiforms. They have a cosmopolitan distribution, with most species found in the tropical regions of Africa, Asia, and Oceania, but they also can be seen in Europe. They can be found in deep forests near calm ponds and small rivers. The family contains 116 species and is divided into three subfamilies and 19 genera.
1. Scientific classification: These birds are a family belonging to class Aves with suborder (Alcedines).
2. Systematics: The centre of Kingfisher diversity is the Australasian realm, but the group originated in the Indolomalayan region around 27 million years ago and invaded the Australasian realm a number of times. Fossil kingfishers have been described from lower Eocene rocks in Wyoming and middle Eocene rocks in Germany.
3. Evolution: The Alcediniae are basal to the other two subfamilies among the three subfamilies. The subfamily is comparatively recently split from the Halcyoninae, diversifying in the old world as recently as the Miocene or Pliocene.
4. Description: The kingfishers have long, dagger-like bills. 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.
5. Colouration: The brilliantly bright plumage of the kingfishers look almost exotic in comparison to the more modest hues of many birds native to Britain. In motion, the kingfisher’s contrasting colours orange, cyan and blue- produce a startling flash of colour.
6. Distribution: The kingfishers have a cosmopolitan distribution throughout the world’s tropical and temperate regions. They range from Ireland across Europe, North Africa and Asia.
7. Habitat: Kingfishers occupy a massive range of habitats. While they are often associated with rivers and lakes, over half of the world’s species are found in the forest and forested streams.
8. Breeding: They are territorial, with some species defending their territories vigorously. They are generally monogamous, although cooperative breeding has been observed in some species and quite common in others.
9. Diet and feeding: Kingfishers feed on a wide variety of prey. They are most famous for hunting and eating fish, and some species do specialise in catching fish, but other species take crustaceans, frogs and other amphibians.
10. Relationship with humans: Kingfishers are generally shy birds, but in spite of this, they feature heavily in human culture, generally due to the large head supporting its powerful mouth, their bright plumage, or some species interesting behaviour.
11. There are 87 different species of kingfisher in the world, but only one Alcidoatthis, breeds in Europe.
12. The largest kingfisher in the world is Australia’s laughing ‘kookaburra’; it weighs up to 500gm, or 15 times as much as our bird.
13. There are several other species of kingfisher that look much like our bird. The great blue kingfisher, for example, has similar markings but is much bigger; it has the appropriate Latin name of Alcedo Hercules.
14. Kingfisher has a huge world distribution and can be found as far east as the Solomon islands. To differentiate our kingfisher from the other 86 species, it is officially known as the river kingfisher.
15. Many of the world’s kingfishers don’t eat fish and rarely go near water. In many parts of northern and eastern Europe, the kingfisher is migratory, some travelling up to 3,000 km to their wintering grounds.
16. Few British kingfishers ever more than 250km, though freezing weather will prompt them to move the coast.
17. Severe winters can lead to as many as 90% of Britain’s kingfishers perishing.
18. Kingfishers are renowned for the unsanitary conditions of their nests, which become littered with droppings, pellets and fish bones.
19. Many young kingfishers die within days of fledging, their first dives leaving them waterlogged, so they end up drowning.
20. Because of the high mortality of young, kingfishers usually have two or three broods a year, with as many as 10 in a brood.
21. Kingfishers range widely in their quest for fish and will often raid garden ponds.
22. Kingfishers fly at only one pace: fast and straight, but they can hover when fishing.
23. In Victorian times, kingfishers were shot and stuffed to put in glass cases, while their feathers were widely used by milliners to adorn hats.
24. A kingfisher’s short tail allows the bird to turn easily when it is underwater.