Common Kingfisher swallows fish tail-first

on 3rd January 2010

“Many birds eat fish by swallowing them whole. Usually, birds will manipulate the fish to position the prey’s head to face its throat. Swallowing head-first is believed to ease ingestion and prevent sharp fins or spines from being caught in the throat. The attached images showed the process of a Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) swallowing a small fish tail-first, which is unusual.

”The kingfisher first caught the fish by diving into the water and spearing it with its sharp bill. The upper mandible was observed to pierce the translucent body of the fish while the lower mandible helped hold onto the fish (above left). The fish was then bashed twice against the bird’s perch (above right).

“Next, the fish was held high above the bird’s head (above left). It was thought that the next sequence would be swallowing fish. Wrong! As the fish was still stuck in the bird’s mandible, the bird had to dislodge the fish first. How did the kingfisher do it? It did it by forward thrusting its head (and bill) to dislodge the fish (above right), then turning to its left and opening its mandibles to immediately swallow it. All this while, the the fish remained in the same position of its tail facing the bird’s throat.

“The actual swallowing was so fast that my camera, which is capable of 3 frames per second, failed to keep up and capture the action. Swallowing a fish by its tail first is a rather unusual method for birds but it is possible when the prey is small (as in this case).


Kwong Wai Chong

24th December 2009

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

3 Responses

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Overall visits (since 2005)

Live visitors
Visitors Today

Clustrmaps (since 2016)