kingfisher

kingfisher

[king-fish-er]
kingfisher, common name for members of the family Alcedinidae, essentially tropical and subtropical land birds, with affinities to trogons and swifts and related to the hornbill. Kingfishers have chunky bodies, short necks and tails, large heads with erectile crests, and strong, long beaks. Most kingfishers are carnivorous. The family is divided into two subfamilies, the fishing and the forest kingfishers, the American species being in the former category. The common eastern American belted kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon, perches above the banks of freshwater streams and dives for small fish, crustaceans, reptiles, amphibians, and aquatic insects, returning to its perch to eat. It is 12 to 14 in. (30-35 cm) long, blue-gray above and white beneath; the female has chestnut breast markings. The Texas kingfisher is green above, has no crest, and is smaller (8 in./20 cm). Of the forest kingfishers, the best known is the Australian kookaburra, Dacelo gigas, famous for its laughing cry and valued as a destroyer of harmful snakes and lizards. The related (family Todidae) colorful West Indian tody is insectivorous. The genus Halcyon, of the forest kingfishers, is the largest group, comprising some 33 species. Fishing kingfishers nest in deep burrows dug out along streams. The burrows may extend up to 10 ft (300 cm) vertically, and from five to eight eggs are laid in the chamber rounded out at the end of the tunnel. Both male and female share the incubation duties. Many forest kingfishers nest in the same fashion as the fishing kingfishers, but some, e.g., the kookaburra, never go near the water and nest in trees. Kingfishers are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Coraciiformes, family Alcedinidae.

Any of about 90 species of birds (family Alcedinidae), many of which fish for their food. Solitary birds, kingfishers are found worldwide but are chiefly tropical. They have a large head, long and usually narrow bill, compact body, small feet, and usually a short or medium-length tail. Species range from 4 to 17 in. (10–43 cm) long; most have bright, boldly patterned plumage, and many are crested. They utter rattling or piping calls, and they plunge into the water for small fish and other aquatic animals. The only widespread North American species, the belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon), is bluish gray above and white below. The forest kingfishers (e.g., kookaburra) have a broader bill.

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Kingfishers are small bright colored birds of the three families Alcedinidae (river kingfishers), Halcyonidae (tree kingfishers), and Cerylidae (water kingfishers). There are about 90 species of kingfisher. All have large heads, long, sharp, pointed bills, short legs, and stubby tails. They are found throughout the world.

Categorization

The etymology of kingfisher is obscure; the term comes from king's fisher, but why that name was applied is not known.

The taxonomy of the three families is complex and rather controversial. Although commonly assigned to the order Coraciiformes, from this level down confusion sets in.

The kingfishers were traditionally treated as one family, Alcedinidae with three subfamilies, but following the 1990s revolution in bird taxonomy, the three former subfamilies are now usually elevated to familial level. That move was supported by chromosome and DNA-DNA hybridisation studies, but challenged on the grounds that all three groups are monophyletic with respect to the other Coraciiformes. This leads to them being grouped as the suborder Alcedines.

The tree kingfishers have been previously given the familial name Dacelonidae but Halcyonidae has priority. This group derives from a very ancient divergence from the ancestral stock. Even tropical South America has only five species plus wintering Belted Kingfisher. In comparison, the tiny African country of The Gambia has eight resident species in its 120 by 20 mi. (192 by 32 km) area.

The six species occurring in the Americas are four closely related green kingfishers in the genus Chloroceryle and two large crested kingfishers in the genus Megaceryle, suggesting that the sparse representation in the western hemisphere evolved from just one or two original colonising species.

The smallest species of kingfisher is the African Dwarf Kingfisher (Ispidina lecontei), which averages at 10.4 g and 10 cm (4 inches). The largest overall is the Giant Kingfisher (Megaceryle maxima), at an average of 355 g (13.5 oz) and 45 cm (18 inches). However, the familiar Australian kingfisher known as the Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) may be the heaviest species, since large individuals exceeding 450 g (1 lb) are not rare.

Habitat

Kingfishers live in both woodland and wetland habitats. Kingfishers that live near water hunt small fish by diving. They also eat crayfish, frogs, and insects. Wood kingfishers eat reptiles. Kingfishers of all three families beat their prey to death, either by whipping it against a tree or by dropping it on a stone.

They are able to see well both in air and under water while swimming. Their eyes also have evolved an egg-shaped lens able to focus in the two different environments.

The Old World tropics and Australasia are the core area for this group. Europe and North America north of Mexico are very poorly represented with only one common kingfisher (Common Kingfisher and Belted Kingfisher respectively), and a couple of uncommon or very local species each: (Ringed Kingfisher and Green Kingfisher in the southwest USA, Pied Kingfisher and White-breasted Kingfisher in SE Europe).

The Pacific Islands Conservation Research Association is involved with projects studying coral reef fish and endangered Micronesian Kingfishers (Todiramphus cinnamominus) in the Federated States of Micronesia. Additionally the Ornithological Society of Polynesia, studied critically endangered Niau Kingfishers (Todiramphus gambieri niauensis) in French Polynesia with PICRA support.

See also

References

External links

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