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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Feeding habits of kingfishers

Feeding habits of kingfishers

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.

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