Common Kingfisher: Hovering

on 30th November 2006

On the morning of 21st November 2006, KC Tsang was admiring a Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) quietly perching on a branch of a tree. He had his camera setup ready and so took a shot of the bird (above). Then suddenly it flew off and hovered above the ground, “like a helicopter” he wrote (below). The bird then swooped down on the grass below and caught an insect. As KC wrote: “According to my long-time birder friend… this must be a new behaviour.”

Well, most kingfishers hunt from a high perch, splash-diving into the water or dropping onto the ground to catch a prey (below). These birds take insects and other invertebrates, crustaceans, fishes, frogs, geckos, snakes and sometimes even small birds.

Several species use the technique of hovering to forage but only in the Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis) has the technique been perfected.

Lui Jianzhong was kind enough to share his images of a hovering Common Kingfisher taken in Hongkong some time ago. The bird was hovering over the mudflat looking for a potential meal like mudskippers, fishes or shrimps (above and below).

Hovering is an energy-intensive activity, achieved by beating the wings more or less horizontally – to provide lift but not thrust. The ability to hover for long periods is advantageous when foraging in areas away from a nearby perch. This means that the bird can maximize its time for hunting, rather than returning to a nearby perch to scan the area.

Our bird specialist R. Subaraj has this to say: “This is not new behaviour! The Common Kingfisher is well known for using this method in addition to fishing from a perch and has been observed and documented hovering on several occasions in Singapore and Malaysia.”

Input by KC Tsang and Lui Jianzhong; images by KC (top three) and Jianzhong (bottom two).

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

2 responses

  1. The hovering has certainly given opportunity for beautiful pictures! Pied Kingfishers are also known to hover over water bodies whilst hunting. I believe some species of magpie also hover while hunting.

  2. Have observed the same behaviour recently too. One Collared Kingfisher was seen hovering under the covered linkway over the monsoon drain at Ginza Plaza, apparently trying its luck on a quick bite of house lizards. The hovering act lasted about 7-8 seconds before it perched on the bridge side, without much luck. Similar behaviour was seen exhibited by a White-throated Kingfisher, hovering in the last light of dusk while feeding on flying insects a few years back.

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