Feeding habits of kingfishers

on 4th November 2006

A kingfishers generally hunts by sitting quietly on a high perch and keeping a close lookout of the surrounding for potential prey. Once it spots a prey, it swoops down and seizes it in its bill to return to the same perch or another perch. Alternatively, the bird may snatch a prey while in flight or hover in front of a branch to catch the caterpillar of the privet hawk moth.

Now not all kingfishers eat fish. Certainly fish is the food of many kingfishers but most of these birds eat a wide range of foods. These may include invertebrates like worms, centipedes (above), insects (below), molluscs and crustaceans. They also eat vertebrates like amphibians, reptiles and mammals.

Plants are seldom eaten but there are reports of the Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) eating the stems of reeds. Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) has been known to eat berries occasionally while the Blue-breasted Kingfisher of Africa feeds on oil palm fruits (Elaeis guineensis).

The Stork-billed Kingfisher (Halcyon capensis), with its large bill in relation to it body size is well adapted to dealing with crabs. And large fish also. Daisy O’Neill wrote an account of how one such kingfisher dealt with a fish larger than its head, whacking it to death before swallowing it.

Now Allan Teo has sent in images of another Stork-billed Kingfisher that caught a fish, gripped it tightly in its large bill and smashed it against its wooden perch. The bird then casually tossed the dead fish into the air to reposition it for swallowing head first. The image is so clear that the bruises on the fish’s head are clearly visible.

The beating, besides stunning or even killing the fish, also breaks up its spines that might otherwise cause harm to the bird when swallowing it. It is interesting to note that there have been cases of kingfishers dying as a result of these spines becoming lodged in the bird’s digestive tract.

Top two images of the Collared Kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris) are by Chan Yoke Meng; bottom two of the Stork-billed Kingfisher are by Allan Teo.

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

Other posts by YC Wee

4 Responses

  1. Hello,

    found a little “oriental dwarf kingfisher” this morning in our house, brought in by our cat. Put it in a nest of Kleenex in a quiet place, so it can rest a bit. But I have no idea where the nest might be. So I maybe have to feed it somehow. Do you think its a good idea to dig for some worms or larvae? Or take it to our birdpark?

    Any help appreciated.

    Greetings from Kuala Lumpur!

    1. There are two forms of Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher in Peninsular Malaysia, the Black-backed and Rufous-backed Kingfisher, which had most likely be accepted for split by majority of the parties due to recent molecular analysis.

      Since you are in KL, unless you have a forest next to you, you are getting the Black-backed form, easily told by a dark blacking wing, blue on the mantle and crown.

      If you got this, dont bother looking for the nest, because it does not breed here and is merely a migrant, a common species to get strung in urban gardens alive or dead for a while, I had one alive in the drain opposite my house few years back, but many found dead or injured once, this is because like other migratory kingfishers, they are nocturnal migrants that migrates in the night and easily became victims of crash onto artificial buildings and structures, many are stunned and may gain flight after recovery or being eaten by stray predators before they even got the chance. Some experience broken wings and could not fly, while some probably flew too fast and the impact would cause direct death or it may struggle for a short moment.

      What you need to do now is to check for injuries, and you can do a test flight on it to see if it is fit to fly, if it is too weak, try to feed it with small pieces of raw meat, best if they were fish or lizards or even frogs, cut it into small pieces and you may need to force feed if it is not willing to feed by its own. When it gain strength and with no injuries, it shall be able to be released at a safe place, thick trees with shades and it would continue on its journey south.

      You can always send in a pic for us to help confirming the ID. For injured birds, you can try to contact Dr Jalila in UPM for help.

  2. I found a collared kingfisher whose one of the wings had been severed, totally cut off by my fan. I am nursing it at the moment but not really sure what to do. I live in a small town where vets are none existence.

    Please advise me if i should nurse it myself or bring it to the wildlife department. Or perhaps do a merciful killing? I do not like the idea of putting anyone or any animals in a cage. I guess this poor thing wont be able to fly ever again.

    Your opinion is much appreciated

    1. Dear Tong Boi,
      This maimed kingfisher is lucky to have you attend to its injuries.
      Although this kingfisher will never fly again it will adapt to its injuries and learn to move around in other ways. I conjecture that you live in a house with a big compound where you can construct some safe space for this bird.

      Wish you all the best in looking after this bird.

      I would like to recommend this Facebook group “Australian Native Birds” (ANB) where the members discuss about caring for injured wild birds.

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