May 27, 2019

3 Kingfishers of India


God loved the birds and invented trees. Man loved the birds and invented cages

– Jaques Deval

In a distant land called India trouble is stirring.

Commander-in-chief: “Saya! The drongo forces are gaining on the Eastern front.”

King: “What makes these drongos so bold to attack us in broad daylight?”

Commander-in-chief, “Saya! They are diurnal, much like us.”

King: “Shut up.”

Commander-in-chief, “The scouts report that the drongos do not even spare the giant eagles, they will mob them, if they intrude upon their territory. They are a double threat, aggressive and agile.”

King: “Nonsense; assemble the forces”

“Call upon my brothers from the other kingdoms, All 12 of us must come together for this task.”

Commander-in-chief: “Yes Saya! As you command.”

Next scene:

Commander-in-chief: “Soldier! Send word to the other kingdoms, its time, prepare for war.”

Soldier: “Yyyyess sssirr….”

Commander-in-chief, “Soldier! Are you new here?”

Soldier: “Yes sir!”

“Sir why are we going to war with the drongos, it is suicide.”

Commander-in-chief: “Soldier, let me tell you something about our King.”

Our story starts a long time ago? No no it starts now!


The origin of the name, well at least the king part is unknown, and speaking of name King(fisher) all the members of the family don’t always eat fish as their royal diet (so be careful, the king takes offence, he likes insects also).

The lineage of our king is characterized by long pointed beaks, big head, small feet, short tail and beautiful royal colour plumage (there are exceptions).

They are small to medium sized and our King and Queen look similar.

Let’s meet the kings of India:

Kingfisher subfamilies as follows

  • Tree kingfishers (Halcyoninae)
    • White-throated kingfisher
    • Ruddy kingfisher
    • Black-capped kingfisher
    • Stork-billed kingfisher
    • Brown-winged kingfisher
    • Collared kingfisher

  • River kingfishers (Alcedininae)  
    • Common kingfisher        
    • Blue-eared kingfisher
    • Blyth’s kingfisher
    • Oriental Dwarf kingfisher

  • Water kingfishers (Cerylinae)
    • Pied kingfisher
    • Crested kingfisher

Tree Kingfishers

Let’s meet our first dynasty:

The most abundant among the family, they are medium to large in size (a useful pointer to remember incase ever, you want to get his highness a t-shirt)

They feed on small vertebrates and insects.

They dress colorful with bright blues and browns.

Most of them have red bills suggesting a diet other than fish.

Their rule extends over the tropical forests and open woodlands

River Kingfishers

Our most popular king belongs to this sub family, the common kingfisher. You may have seen his picture during your interactions with the humans. They often drink something with his picture on it, and then act funny.

They are relatively small and medium in size. No less brightly colored than the tree kingfishers, they eat fish and also other prey (insects). Black bills suggest a fish diet.

Water Kingfisher

The rare and the specialist, these are fewest among the family members.

With a very niche diet choice, they only feed on fish.

The members ruling areas in India are colored like a chessboard. We will need their strategic input to win.

Common Kingfisher

Hunting

Known for their diving abilities, our king’s sit perched very still on a branch or rock overlooking a water body.

Eyes (large in comparison to overall body) are focused on the prey. They also take in to account refraction of light in water when hunting fish.

Their specialized neck muscles allow their heads to remain still and focused (a king with a stable head is an asset).

Our Pied King (fisher) is unique. He hovers above the water with wings beating up to 8 times a second. At times we have seen him hovering up to 30 feet in the air to avoid alerting the prey.

With these specialized skills on our side the drongos don’t stand a chance in this war.

King and Queen

The king and queen are monogamous and nest in the holes / tunnels created in soft earth especially on banks of rivers and water bodies.

There is a beautiful courtship behavior our king performs for his queen. He gives her a fish as a gift to woo her.

If the face of the fish is facing outwards it is for the queen otherwise it is for himself (No you don’t get a fish).

(Observed in common kingfisher species)

Oriental Black backed dwarf kingfisher

Kingfisher in India

The largest kingfisher in India is the Crested kingfisher, it is as big as a common house crow (41-43cm).

Pied in colour, it is a specialist fish eater and one of the best places to see it in India is Jim Corbett National Park.

The smallest kingfisher is the Oriental / Black backed dwarf-kingfisher it is only 14 cm. It is a beautiful bird with violet iridescence on the head and nape.

The White throated kingfisher, Common kingfisher and Pied kingfisher are the most widely distributed species in India and can be spotted easily in most of our national parks.

For a detailed distribution of all the kingfishers in India please refer the below link to the e-bird website.

Kingfisher trivia

Bullet Train

Commander-in-chief: “Did you know? Our king is so great that the humans have been inspired by his sleek and aerodynamic design which aids them in diving and adopted the same design on their Bullet train.”

Soldier: “Pardon me for my ignorance sir, but I don’t understand!?”

Commander-in-chief: “The bullet train when exiting tunnels created a massive sound disturbing the silence. The new design inspired from the bill of the kingfisher helped to eradicate the sound. It also made the bullet train faster and more fuel efficient.”

“The drongos have no idea what they are up against.”

Soldier: “But Sir! I thought this story was intended to justify why we were going to war? But all it does is, just glorify our kings.”

Commander-in-chief, “Enough chatter soldier! Assemble the troops and form in on the Eastern front.”

Soldier: “Oh boy! We are so dead.”

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