kingfisher

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

kingfisher

kingfisher, common name for members of the family Alcedinidae, essentially tropical and subtropical land birds, related to the bee-eaters, rollers, and todies. Kingfishers have chunky bodies, short necks and tails, large heads with erectile crests, and strong, long beaks. Most kingfishers are carnivorous. The family is divided into three subfamilies, the river, tree, and water kingfishers (which some authorities considered to be separate families); the American species being in the last.

The common eastern American belted kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon, perches above the banks of freshwater streams and dives for small fish, crustaceans, reptiles, amphibians, and aquatic insects, returning to its perch to eat. It is 12 to 14 in. (30–35 cm) long, blue-gray above and white beneath; the female has chestnut breast markings. The Texas kingfisher is green above, has no crest, and is smaller (8 in./20 cm). Of the forest kingfishers, the best known is the Australian kookaburra, famous for its laughing cry and valued as a destroyer of harmful snakes and lizards.

River and water kingfishers nest in deep burrows dug out along streams. The burrows may extend up to 10 ft (300 cm) vertically, and from five to eight eggs are laid in the chamber rounded out at the end of the tunnel. Both male and female share the incubation duties. Many forest kingfishers nest in the same fashion as the river and water kingfishers, but some, e.g., the kookaburra, never go near the water and nest in trees.

Kingfishers are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Coraciiformes, family Alcedinidae.

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