What do kingfishers eat?

posted in: Feeding-vertebrates, Kingfishers | 9

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Although they are called kingfishers, not all kingfishers eat fish. Of the 90 or so species, well over half feed at least sometimes on other prey. There are several species that do not feed on fish at all. And not all kingfishers live by water as some actually avoid water, preferring to live in wooded areas.

During March 2007 Connie Khoo was busy observing a pair of White-throated Kingfishers (Halcyon smyrnensis) bringing back food for the chicks (left). One thing she noticed was that the parents never brought back any fish to feed the chicks. There were plenty of lizards, of different species, and frogs, insects and even a big spider. But definitely no fish.

There were two growing chicks in the nest and they needed to be fed regularly. Apparently lizards were the favourite food (below).

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But what surprised Connie most was when one of the parent bird brought back a rat (below left). The rat was struggling vigorously and the kingfisher was bashing it continuously against the branch it was perching on until it became lifeless. About 45 minutes later the other parent came flying with another rat in its bill. But the rat was not for the chicks as the bird swallowed it – with difficulty, head first of course (below right). It took all of three minutes to complete the job, with short rests in between.

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Connie was worried, “His whole mouth was wide open… and for a while I was thinking will he choke to death? Finally when he finished swallowing the whole rat, he took a deep breath and rested for about 10 minutes before flying off to join his mate who was holding another lizard ready to feed the young chicks again.”

Input and images by Connie Knoo. The information and images was made available through the good office of KC Tsang.

9 Responses

  1. Great pictures! I wonder if anyone has ever observed kingfishers preying upon smaller birds? If I recall correctly, it’s been recorded before in some species. I once saw a white-breasted kingfisher repeatedly dive-bombing a wounded feral pigeon, but didn’t manage to see what happen after that, or find out why it was doing that.

  2. Yes, there are cases of White-Throated Kingfishers
    taking birds as their prey but usually smaller birds.
    At least one case each in Malaysia and India.
    I have not personally seen it.

  3. Comentando_Terrícola

    This was a very helpful website page for me, as I was searching to see if any types of birds would eat what people wouldn’t assume or expect them to eat. I thought it was rather amazing at the fact of watching the kingfishers that Connie Khoo was observing, it must of been great seeing them feeding, especially the animals they were feeding. Great pictures too.

  4. […] Although they are called kingfishers, not all kingfishers eat fish. Of the 90 or so species, well over half feed at least sometimes on other prey. There are several species that do not feed on fish at all. And not all kingfishers live by water as some actually avoid water, preferring to live in wooded areas. During March 2007 Connie Khoo was busy observing a pair of White-throated Kingfishers (Halcyon smyrnensis) bringing back food for the chicks (left). One thing she… Read More […]

  5. I’ve found one baby Kingfisher. Your post was helpful. Thank you for sharing.

  6. geraldine touchie

    here on Vancouver island british Columbia, found a king fisher with broken wing how do I care for it until I can find someone to help it?

  7. Lee Chiu San

    If you have a pet shop nearby that sells crickets or mealworms you can try offering these alive to the kingfisher. Or you could try a bait shop frequented by fishermen.
    I have never kept a pet kingfisher, though there are a few that are permanent fixtures over the water lily ponds in my garden. However, from reading books on aviculture, it is said that kingfishers do not pick minnows off the floor, but will only attack them when swimming. But you could try dropping a minnow on the floor and see if the kingfisher will eat it as it flops.
    As a last resort, if the bird will not pick up food on its own, you can try to force feed it. I have done so with herons and I suppose the same tactics will work. This is a two-person job, with one holding the bird. Get a small anchovy or minnow, gently pry the beak open, and slide the fish as far down the throat as it will go. Repeat until you think the bird has had enough.

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