When a kingfisher takes a perch or suddenly springs into action, it’s hard not to be captivated. With their watchful eyes they seem smart and alert. Sporting pleasing patterns and carrying portly proportions, they have a jolly and jaunty disposition.
In the U.S. the rollicking rattle of the Belted Kingfisher is always welcome, while in Europe the diminutive Common (Eurasian) Kingfisher is well appointed and also very well liked. Both are such popular fixtures within their regions that sometimes folks are surprised to learn that the center of kingfisher diversity is not in the Western hemisphere, but rather Australasia. Perhaps yet more surprising is how few actually eat fish.
There are three groups (subfamilies) of kingfishers which include the river kingfishers (35 species), the water kingfishers (9 species), and the tree kingfishers (70 species; Halcyoninae). While the water kingfishers (including all in the Americas) and a few others prey on fish, virtually all others feed on invertebrates or small vertebrates. As a family, kingfishers prosper especially in the tropics of the Old World and Australasia. The tiny sliver of Africa (4600 sq. miles) that is The Gambia for example, hosts no less than 8 kingfisher species (compared to six in the Americas). Australia has 10 species, including the world’s largest, the Laughing Kookaburra, famous both for sitting in old gum trees and for its wild-sounding call, heard often in motion picture soundtracks. And if you get yourself to the island of Sulawesi, you can even see the bird featured in this Rockjumper Image of the Month, the Scaly-breasted Kingfisher.
This bird lives on one of the most spectacular islands for birding on the planet, amid the heart of kingfisher diversity. Now, if you looked at this image today and had no earthly idea what it was, don’t be too hard on yourself. As beautiful as the Scaly-breasted Kingfisher is, Indonesia is still quite unknown to many of us. And while this may be the hot zone for snappy-looking kingfishers, this species appears more like an overdressed puffbird. In fact it is a female Scaly-breasted. Most of us know that generally among birds it is the females who make the choices in mate selection, and this has driven many males to look rather more spectacular than their female counterparts. (Consult Dr. Rick Prum’s fascinating new title, The Evolution of Beauty for more on this subject). But in certain kingfishers, some of us find that it is the females who look more dapper. The female Belted Kingfisher sports a rich rufous belt, for instance, that the male does not show. And the female Scaly-breasted depicted above exhibits nice rufous stripes in the face, where the male’s face is just blue overall.
Forever popular, we hope your Halcyon days of kingfisher observation lay just ahead. Indonesia is home not only to the Scaly-breasted, but also the Green-backed, the Lilac, and perhaps best of all the spectacular paradise kingfishers! Join us today, and discover more.
Indonesia – Sulawesi & Halmahera – Wallacean Endemics
01 – 14 Sep 2018 (14 days)
In pursuit of iconic birds such as Knobbed Hornbill, Purple-winged Roller, Hylocitrea, and the extraordinary Standardwing.