You are here: Life > Birds > Kingfishers


Common European kingfisherKingfishers are mostly small, brightly coloured birds. There are 86 species. They have large heads with long, dagger-like bills. They consume a wide range of prey as well as fish, usually caught by swooping down from a perch. Kingfishers nest in sandy burrows, where their chicks are safely out of harm's way. They are usually associated with rivers, but different species live in a wide range of habitats, including deserts, mountains, open woodland, farmland, towns and tropical coral islands.

A common kingfisher dives for its prey
The moment captured on camera when a kingfisher seizes its prey underwater

Catching prey

Kingfishers are famous for hunting and eating fish, but some species prey on crustaceans, worms, molluscs, insects, spiders, centipedes, amphibians—and even small reptiles, birds and mammals. Kingfishers hunt from an exposed perch a few metres from the water. Having spotted its prey, it swoops down to snatch it. It dives no deeper than 25 centimetres (10 inches) below the surface. It spreads its wings under water, its open eyes protected by transparent eyelids. Then it returns to the perch, where it beats its catch in order to kill it, or to dislodge the fish's spines and bones.
A laughing kookaburra with a frog in its beak


Halcyon is the scientific name for some kingfishers. The days either side of the winter solstice—a time when, according to legend, the kingfisher calmed the seas in order to lay its eggs on a floating nest—are called "Halcyon days". The term has come to mean generally a time of peace or calmness.

Q-files now has new sections specially written for younger readers. They are: Living world, Earth, Science, Human body, Prehistoric life, Space, History, Geography and Technology.

Find the answer