You’ve probably heard of kingfisher before. As such, they are not one species, but a group of three completely different families, comprising no less than 90 species.

Types of Kingfishers

What exactly are Alcedinidae?

It is a suborder of Coraciform birds to which belong the kingfishers, the alkons, the hunting martins and the kookaburras. A group whose birds stand out for being colorful, small and have a large worldwide distribution, especially in the Old World and Australasia.

The group was treated in the 1990’s as a simple family: alcedinidae, but is now considered a subordinate. The three families that make up this group are:

  • Alcedinidae
  • Halcyonidae
  • Cerylidae

The 90 species that have been classified within this group are closely related, sharing a large head, a long, pointed beak and short tails and legs. Most species have striking plumages, with brief sexual dimorphism. The greater presence of this group.

How are the three groups divided?

As mentioned above, the alkedine family is divided into three groups comprising 90 species of birds; the alcedinidae, the halcyonidae and the cerylidae. But how are they divided?

On the one hand, there are the alcedinidae, in which there are those known as kingfishers, known for their long beaks and great hunters who usually consume fish that they catch in the waters of rivers and lakes. A widely distributed species that can be found almost anywhere in the world. But since they’re very scary, the odds of seeing one are very small.

Next are the halcyonidae, a family that includes hunter martins, kookaburras and alkynas. This is the largest of the three families, with 56-61 species (experts differ greatly in number), and 12 genera. They are mainly found in Australia and Asia.

the kingfisher bird

Finally, there are the cerylidae, or cerilids, a group that gathers the giant martines. This family also includes large kingfishers. It is a family that above all has a strong presence in the United States.

Apart from the size, the big difference between the different groups is the habitat in which they are found and their feeding. While some halcynidae may also consume fish, as well as cerylidae, others may consume meat from small birds or even carrion left by other animals.

Which way are they?

They have a cosmopolitan distribution, being in the tropics and temperate regions of the whole planet, although Australia and Asia are the parts of the world that have more presence of this species. They are absent from the polar regions and some deserts with very dry climates.

Europe and North America, in northern Mexico, have a brief presence of members of this species, and few are located in the United States. The same is true in Europe, with the common kingfisher being the most widely distributed species in the region.

They occupy a large number of habitats, but because they are animals that feed mainly on fish, aquatic insects and small crustaceans, they often inhabit areas near rivers and lakes, within forests or wooded streams. It is true, however, that some family members, such as the culirrojo alkaloid, may live in more desert areas.

What do these animals feed on?

They are predators that feed on a large number of small animals, especially fish. But they also feed on crustaceans, frogs, amphibians, annelids, molluscs, water insects, centipedes, reptiles and sometimes even some small birds. In some cases, some of these species have been seen to consume snakes, especially those living in desert areas.

Although they are strongly related to each other, they do not have to share the same diet. Everything will depend on the area you are in and the conditions of your environment. While some may only eat fish, others may prefer to eat meat from other birds or carrion.

kingfisher eating

His hunting technique is as perfect as that of a hawk or an eagle when it hurls itself on a prey. They land on tree branches above water level to detect prey. When it is close enough to the surface, they dive for it and grab it with their long beaks. They carry it to the branch, kill it with a blow or with their beak and swallow it in one bite. Sometimes they may dive deep to follow their prey.

How does this species reproduce?

It should be noted that the species that are part of this family can become very aggressive and are always ready to fight to defend their territory. They are mostly monogamous, but some may be polygamous. It is also common to see cases of cooperative breeding, as in the common kookaburra, where they share the breeding of their young with some other more experienced member.

As with other coraciform members, they nest in cavities. Most members of this family dig tunnels on sandy slopes on the banks of rivers or lakes. Some may use the tunnel left by another alkedine or nest in tree cavities, such as thermiders.

kingfisher reproduce

In order to have the nest, a small chamber is built at the end of the tunnel, which is usually one metre long and made by both parents. In this a small hole will be made in which rarely any element is put. But both parents can decorate it with some of their feathers or with herbs they get. In that same chamber they will store the food they have captured in order to keep the female fed. When the female lays her eggs in the nest, between 6-10 eggs, she will stay inside (although in some species the parents share the incubation) and the father will take care of feeding her and ensuring that no predators enter the nest.

After about a month, the young will be born. For two weeks these young will remain under parental supervision in the nest, taking turns foraging for food and feeding their chicks. When they leave the nest after two weeks (which may take a little longer), they will begin to learn to hunt on their own. The survival rate of the young is very low, as most of them drown when they hunt for the first time or at the hands of a predator.

What is the status of this genus of birds?

Several of the species that make up the different families of the alkedines are in a situation of threat or danger of extinction. Given that most of them are forest species, the destruction of their habitats is one of the main causes of the reduction of specimens, together with the degradation of the environment due to the introduction of other species that have posed a great danger to the members of this genus.

eggs of kingfisher

An example of a critically endangered species is the Marquesa de la Polynesia France, which has lost its habitat and lost much of its territory to the introduction of livestock, in addition to the arrival of new predators that it does not know how to deal with.

How is your relationship with human beings?

The truth is that alkedines are very elusive and elusive birds, and it is rarely possible to see them, because when they detect a strange movement around them they hide quickly. However, they have been present in human culture, for better or for worse.

The people of Dusun in Borneo consider the eastern kingfisher to be a bad omen. When a warrior encounters this bird on his way to battle, he returns home. On the other hand, the small hunter kingfisher for some tribes of Borneo is considered a bird of good omen. In ancient times, the sacred alkation, together with other members of the same family, was revered by the Polynesians, since it was believed that they controlled the sea and the waves.

A similar belief existed in Greek mythology in the myth of Alcione, the daughter of Aeolus, who was transformed into a kingfisher. According to this legend, this bird nested on the waters of the sea, around the winter solstice, so Aeolus calmed the winds of the seas for two weeks to protect the sunset. These days were eventually called the “days of the alcyon”, and during that time no storms were expected, so the alkali became a symbol of peace and quiet.

Are there any curiosities to know about this species?

The truth is that there are many particularities to know about these birds, which can be very interesting to study. And if you see them, the color scheme of their plumage can be a once-in-a-lifetime wonder.

curiostity of exotic bird

  • Its first curiosity is that it is a bird that lives in pairs, not being very sociable with the rest of the members of the species. That is, it may be possible to see that there are many alkedines in a flock, but this does not mean that they will share their food with the rest of the members of the flock or defend each other. This only happens during the breeding season, as some single members become “in-laws” to the most inexperienced parents who do not know how to work with the young.
  • Although many do not care much about making a nest, those who do use the bones of the fish they have eaten. Once swallowed and digested, it regurgitates the bones and uses them to make the nest. This causes an unbearable smell to appear within a few days of the tunnel in which the nest is built. Many times, parents reuse a tunnel they have already built and clean the nest well before laying it again.
  • They do not begin their young by feeding fish in the first few days of life. First they will eat larvae and small insects, such as dragonflies and centipedes, and after two weeks they will learn to hunt their first fish.
  • The members of the family do not resemble each other in appearance, since depending on the area they are in, they will have feathers of one colour or another.
  • Not all the birds in this family feed on fish. There are some species that live in desert areas that feed on reptiles and other birds, but they are not carnivorous birds.
  • They can fly much faster than a hummingbird, especially when it comes to catching their prey. They’re a lot scarier than these birds.
  • It is one of the species with the highest mortality rates among the young, since many die when they learn to hunt their food in the rivers (they drown in 90% of cases) or are attacked after predators when their parents are not around.

Is it a species that can be domesticated?

No. Unlike other species that have managed to domesticate some of their members, who simply help the species to reproduce, as happens with hummingbirds in the United States, in the case of alkyd species it is impossible to keep them as pets.

First of all because they are very elusive birds and they don’t like being locked up. Having an alkedine in a cage would not only be considered cruelty, it would also depress the bird so much that it would die within days. An alkedine must feel fulfilled by being the one who gets his prey, throwing himself into the river or pond to get his food, not by being given it inside the cage. Also, because of this special feeding, the cage would smell very bad after a few days and it would have to be cleaned several days a week.

On the other hand, in some countries, their possession is totally prohibited. Some small species are traded on the black market as exotic species and their possession is punishable by imprisonment. Many of the species in this family are in danger of extinction due to the illegal trade in exotic birds, in addition to the destruction of their habitat.

Although this may be a very rare case, sometimes these birds approach urban areas near lakes, ponds or rivers because they can get their food. In those cases, you have to leave them alone. If you wish, you can build them a hut or make a hole in the trunk of a tree, but normally they prefer to build the tunnels at ground level. For this reason it is very rare for any specimen to live in urban areas.

It is also true that many members of this species are migratory and do not cope very well with climate change. This is another of the main reasons why he could not be kept as a pet, because with a sudden change in temperature he would end up dying.