John T. Willis

Thursday, October 29, 2009


I am so thankful that the just published November 2009 issue of National Geographic includes an article with pictures on kingfishers. When we spend our summers in New Zealand, after I come home each day from my teaching classes, we enjoy watching the kingfishers beside the Pacific Ocean. These kingfishers perch in trees or on posts, watching for small fish and minnows. Suddenly, they plummet into the ocean and come up with a catch. Their characteristics and colors are very intriguing.

Kingfishers are small to medium sized brightly colored birds in the order Coraciiformes. There are approximately 90 species of kingfisher. They all have large heads, long, sharp, pointed bills, short legs, and stubby tails. Most species have bright plumage, and usually it is very difficult to distinguish between males and females.

Many species of kingfisher live in tropical areas. Many live in forests. Like other members of their order, they next in cavities, usually tunnels dug into the natural or artificial banks in the ground. The kingfishers were traditionally treated as one family, Alcedinidae with three subfamilies, but follows the 1990s revolution in bird taxonomy, the three former subfamilies are now usually elevated to familial level. This was supported by chronomosome and DNA-DNA hybridisation studies, but challenged on the grounds that all three groups are monophyletic with respect to the other Cariciiformes. This leads to them being grouped as the suborder Alcedines.

The six species in the Americas are four closely related green kingfishers in the genus Chloroceryle and two large crested kingfishers in the genus Megaceryle. Kingfishers range from the African Dwarf Kingfisher, which is 4 inches long to the Giant Kingfisher, which is 18 inches long. The familiar Austrailian kingfisher knows as the Laughing Kookaburra--Dacelo novaeguineae--may be the heaviest species, which sometimes exceeds one pound.

Kingfishers are another example of God's wisdom, diversity, beauty, and intrigue. Surely, I hope YOU enjoy and appreciate kingfishers. But far beyond this, I hope YOU appreciate the CREATOR of kingfishers and ALL of his creation.

What are YOUR experiences with kingfishers? Share your experiences with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


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