Feeding ecology and diet

Kingfishers eat a wide range of small animals and are capable of taking prey from the ground, water, air, or foliage. Most species spend much of their time perched on the lookout for prey, and only a few expend energy to hover or hawk after prey. Despite their name, none of the kingfishers feed exclusively on fish, and ignore aquatic animals for their diet. Most are adaptable and consume a range of relatively large invertebrates, especially grasshoppers in savanna, earthworms in forest, and crustacea in water; as well as small vertebrates, especially reptiles, fish, and amphibia. Only three species have been reported eating fruit: two eating fruit during winter at

A kookaburra beats its prey against a tree. (Illustration by Brian Cress-man)
Kingfisher courting display. (Illustration by Brian Cressman)

high northern latitudes, and the other eating the nutritious fruits of oil palms in the African tropics. Where several species occur together, each has a preferred habitat, such as open or closed forest; each prefers a particular size of prey; and each employs a predominant foraging technique, such as hovering, digging, or exploiting the forest canopy. A species may also alter its feeding patterns in different areas of its range, depending on the other species with which it overlaps. After capture, prey is usually carried back to and beaten against a perch with the bill until it is soft enough to swallow. A few species follow otters, platypus, cormorants, egrets, cattle, or army ants for any prey they might disturb. Others attend grass fires for the insects they disturb.

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