Range:

Majority of species found in Asia, Africa, Australia, and South America; some species in Europe and North America

Habitat:

Along banks of rivers and lakes, forest and open woodland, a few species along seashores or in deserts

Bright and fast

Kingfishers are known for their looks: stocky body; long, thick bill; and striking colors and markings. Many kingfisher species are decked out in feathers of bright blue, green, turquoise, red, or gold. Some have splotches, dashes, stripes, or speckles. The dagger-shaped bill often seems too long or too big for the rest of the bird, but it is well designed for capturing food. Most kingfishers have short legs and strong feet, since they spend most of their time perched on a stalk, twig, or branch while keeping an eye out for a meal. Even though they are chunky birds, kingfishers are fast flyers. Some, like pied kingfishers, can even flap their wings fast enough to hover over water.

A place to call home

Found in a variety of habitats on all continents but Antarctica, kingfishers are territorial birds. They stake out an area with good food sources, convenient perches, and a safe place to roost at night. They are most active in the morning and evening, but if it’s not too hot, they may also hunt during the afternoon.

The most famous kingfisher is Australia’s laughing kookaburra. It gets its name from its call, which sounds like laughter.
Sacred kingfishers are aggressive and fearless in defending their nest. They have been known to attack animals that come too close, like weasels, cats, dogs, and other birds.
When a common kingfisher dives after a meal, it often submerges completely in the water, folding its wings backward to create a V shape. It can even dive straight through a layer of thin ice to catch a fish below.
Many kingfishers can eat prey that seem too large to fit in their mouths. The Amazon kingfisher has a bill about 2.8 inches (7 centimeters) long but can eat a fish that is up to 6.7 inches (17 centimeters) long.

We have had many kingfisher species in our collection since the 1930s. The San Diego Zoo currently has laughing kookaburras as well as blue-breasted, woodland, and white-breasted kingfishers. Our first hatch of an endangered Micronesian kingfisher occurred in 1991, and since that time we’ve welcomed over 90 chicks! Laughing kookaburras are featured in the Zoo’s new Australian Outback exhibit.

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park celebrated the hatch of a Micronesian kingfisher in January 2013, the 27th of this species hatched at the Safari Park.

Both the Zoo and the Safari Park have laughing kookaburras trained as animal ambassadors. They make appearances at television studios and take part in animal presentations, always winning over their audiences with their loud and crazy call!

The Micronesian kingfisher Todiramphus cinnamominus was once found throughout the island of Guam in the Mariana Islands, but its population declined dramatically due to predation by the introduce brown tree snake. This bird is now extinct in the wild, and the captive population numbers 150, making it the rarest species in San Diego Zoo Global’s avian collection.

You can help us bring Micronesian kingfishers back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.