What do kingfishers eat?

Alena Kacal 07/02/2018 00:00

After the initial excitement of seeing the bright blue feathers and red beak of the White-throated Kingfisher, this is usually one of the first questions visitors to the Jerusalem Bird Observatory ask.


 "Don't they eat fish?  Do you have fish here in the pond?"



Photo by Ruthie Schueler


And here it gets tricky.  Many species of kingfishers do eat fish and in fact, they are very well adapted for this task with their long, sharp bills. The other two species of kingfishers that can be found in Israel - the Common Kingfisher and the Pied Kingfisher are primarily fish eaters although they both will feed on aquatic insects and crustaceans.

But around 90% of the world's 87 species of Kingfishers either don't eat fish or primarily feed on other things. And this includes our beautiful White-throated kingfisher.


The White-throated kingfisher will eat just about anything and this is why they can often be seen in habitats far from any water source and even out in the desert.

Here at the JBO, they have been seen eating a wide variety of goodies.


They are the terror of our local frog population. They are fond of mice.



Photo by Gidon Schipper Photo by Rogov Piter


We have watched them wrestle with the largest of crabs - although it sometimes takes them a while to figure out how to swallow them with all those sharp edges!

And we have even seen them catch small birds such as Lesser Whitethroats, Chiffchaffs and even this Great Tit.



Photo by Gidon Schipper Photo by Dov Greenblat


They have also been observed eating worm, insects, small snakes and just so that they can live up to their name, we have seen them catch a fish or two!



Photos by Gidon Schipper


Like most birds, kingfishers like to have baths to keep their feathers clean and our resident kingfishers are no exception. Every day at least one of the pair visits the pond and after a quick snack, they often spend some time diving in and out of the pond and sitting on one of their favorite perches preening their feathers.



Kingfisher feature quite often in legends and mythology. The scientific name for the White Throated kingfisher is Halcyon smyrnensis. The name Halcycon comes from the Greek Goddess Alcyone who was married to Ceyx.


Photo by Gidon Schipper


Legend has it that this happy couple angered Zeus when they called themselves Zeus and Hera. Zeus killed Ceyx and sank his ship.  Alycone in her grief threw herself into the ocean and drowned.

The gods later had pity on the couple and changed them into beautiful blue halcyon birds. When you see one fly by in the sunshine, it is easy to see how they captured the imagination and were made into legends.



So when you come for a visit, take a good look around. Surprisingly, despite their bright blue feathers, these birds can blend into the background and can be hard to see until they move. And if at first you don’t see them, keep your ears pealed. You can often hear them coming in from the Rose Garden as they announce their arrival very loudly for all to hear.  

Let us know if you see them eating anything new!


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