Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter


from the January 19, 2014 Newsletter issued from the Frio Canyon Nature Education Center in the valley of the Dry Frio River in northern Uvalde County, southwestern Texas, on the southern border of the Edwards Plateau, USA

In most of North America Belted Kingfishers are the only kingfisher species to be seen. They're easily recognized by their large size, big heads, and their tendency to fly up and down streams and along shores, sometimes hovering above the water watching for fish below, and often diving headfirst into the water, making spectacular splashes. What a sight when sometimes one comes up from the water and flies away with a silvery fish squirming in his beak. Here in southwestern Texas we have three kingfisher species, all listed in Michael Overton's "Birds of Uvalde County, Texas" as uncommon or rare throughout the year. Besides the Belted, there's the Ringed and the Green Kingfishers.

From the first it was clear that the one swooping past me as I moved along the Dry Frio was neither the Belted Kingfisher nor the Ringed one, because they're fairly large birds and fly with powerful, deep wingbeats. This Dry Frio bird followed the stream like a kingfisher but was the size of a Starling, about half the size of the other two species, so it had to be the Green Kingfisher. My field guide gives the Ringed Kingfisher's length as 15.5 inches (39cm), the Belted's as 12.5 inches (32cm), and the Green's as only 7.7 inches (20cm).

Amazingly, our Dry Frio bird landed just downstream beside some bulrushes, struck a perfect pose, and the result was the picture shown at the top of this page.

Besides being much smaller than the other species and therefore flying with faster wingbeats and more of a lilt, Green Kingfishers are mostly greenish, while the other two who have slate gray bodies.

Green Kingfishers are mainly tropical birds, distributed from southeastern Arizona and here in southern Texas south to southern South America.

from the April 28, 2007 Newsletter issued from Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve, QUERÉTARO, MÉXICO

Right before Marciel and Ernesto came along, I'd been rather abstractedly communing with the pond ecosystem, and more than once just a few feet away I'd heard a small splash as if someone had tossed a pebble into the water. When I'd looked in that direction, however, what I'd seen had been a little Green Kingfisher the size of a Hairy Woodpecker flying away.

Green Kingfishers are a little more than half the size of North America's Belted Kingfisher. Anyone used to the Belted's spectacular splatterings when diving for fish will be struck by the Green's much more modest little ker-plunk. It's clear that the physics of a small bird diving into water differs a lot from that for a big one. It's as if water becomes thicker for smaller birds, and therefore harder to penetrate. If you extrapolate the concept on downward you come to insects walking atop water.

Green Kingfishers are by no means Mexico's smallest kingfisher species. The Green is ±7.5 inches long but the Pygmy of southern Mexico and the Yucatan is only ±5.5 inches (20 & 13 cm, respectively). At Río Lagartos occasionally I saw Pygmys in the mangroves. Mexico is home to five kingfisher species, and one, the Ringed, is noticeably larger than the Belted common in much of North America. Our Green Kingfisher occurs from southern Texas all through Mexico and Central America to northern Chile and Argentina. Along the Amazon's steamy banks the Green Kingfisher is hard to miss.

Actually, relative to the rest of the world, the Kingfisher Family is poorly represented in the Americas, which hosts only six species. The part of the world richest in kingfishers is the Australasian Region, followed by Africa and Asia. Not all kingfishers dive into water for fish. At a University of Michigan page   I read that "About 44 species live in closed-canopy forests (primary and secondary), 17 species in wooded savannas, and 31 species in aquatic habitats including seashores, mangrove swamps, lakes, rivers and streams. One species lives in desert scrub."

There's a lot of life-history information about kingfishers at the above address, too.