Common Kingfisher doing a head turn

posted in: Morphology-Develop. | 3

Lee Tiah Khee photographed a Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) with its head turned front to back, 180 degrees. This enabled the bird to preen its tail feathers while it is still sitting on the branch.

The literature says that the kingfisher “shows limited degree of eye rotation, and, instead, they use head movement to track prey.” The inability of their eyes to move much in their sockets has been compensated by their long flexible necks

Yes, all birds have a long neck that is extremely flexible. The large number of interlocking cervical vertebrae that can rotate against one another freely in all directions make this possible. So, turning 180 degrees in any direction is no great feat for birds.

As most birds keep their necks folded in an S-shape and with the neck covered with feathers, they do not appear long.

Evans, H. E. & J. B. Heiser, 2004. What’s inside: Anatomy and physiology. In: Podulka, S., R. W. Rohrbaugh Jr & R. Bonney (eds.), Handbook of bird biology. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY. Pp. 4.1-4.162.
Woodall, P. F., 2001. Family Alcedinidae (Kingfishers). In: del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott & J. Sargatal (eds.), Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 6. Mousebirds to Hornbills. Lynx Editions, Barcelona. Pp. 130-249.

This post is a cooperative effort between and BESG to bring the study of bird behaviour through photography to a wider audience.


3 Responses

  1. […] earlier post shows the Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) making a similar 180º head turn, enabling it to preen […]

  2. […] Another image that KC captured is the treeswift turning 180º such that it is able to see behind (above). An earlier post LINK describes how the long neck folded into an s-shape enables the bird to pull such a stunt. The Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) has similar ablilty LINK. […]


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