Photo Story: Kingfishers of India

One of the most fascinating subjects of wildlife photography, the Indian Kingfisher does not cease to un-muse itself! Did you know, there are twelve species of this mighty bird?

The word Halcyon, which is also the genus for Tree Kingfishers, is a term for peace and tranquillity. Being extremely territorial, these active little birds are anything but tranquil; nor are they quiet, as their calls can often be heard from the tree-tops in an otherwise peaceful wilderness. 

Kingfishers are known to eat different types of prey – from worms and other insects to frogs and molluscs, although they are most famous for eating fish. Kingfishers are monogamous and nest in holes dug in riverbanks or in trees. 

India is home to 12 species of kingfishers! 

  1. Black-Capped Kingfisher (Halcyon pileata)

This tree kingfisher is found in parts of India with mangrove forests and along river estuaries. Although not a specialist fish eater, it does like the food its habitat offers, such as fish and crab.

The Black-Capped Kingfisher can sometimes be found far inland, too.

  1. Blue-Eared Kingfisher (Alcedo meninting)

The blue-eared kingfisher is found in the foothills of the Himalayas in the North-East of India, the Eastern Ghats, and the Western Ghats. It inhabits dense forests and can be easily confused with the Common Kingfisher by the untrained eye, differing mainly with its blue ear coverts.

An all-dark bill distinguishes a male from the females.

  1. Blyth's Kingfisher (Alcedo hercules)

It is the largest of all the Alcedo kingfishers with females measuring in at lengths of up to 10.3 cm. It is rare in India, but may be found in the foothills of the Himalayas in the North-Eastern parts. It can be found along streams in forests.

This species derives its name from the zoologist, Edward Blyth.

  1. Brown-Winged Kingfisher (Pelargopsis amauroptera)

Found mainly in the Sundarbans, it is Near Threatened according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The degradation of mangroves is a big issue faced by these little birds.

This Kingfisher species have an orange head, nape, throat, and underparts.

  1. Collared Kingfisher (Todirhamphus chloris)

This kingfisher is found in the Western Ghats of India and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands with three subspecies found in India in total. They are mainly coastal and are easily identified by their blue collars.

The Collared Kingfisher is a medium-sized kingfisher belonging to the Halcyoninae subfamily.

  1. Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)

As its name suggests, it is one of the most commonly seen kingfishers in the country. The little flashes of blue as it is seen diving into ponds or other water bodies hold even the most seasoned birders enthralled!

The Common Kingfisher is also known as the Eurasian Kingfisher or River Kingfisher.

  1. Crested Kingfisher (Ceryle lugubris)

This bird is found along the Himalayas and is the largest of all Kingfishers in India. It is found along large mountain rivers and nests in burrows in vertical banks.

These Kingfisher species are monogamous, and courtship precedes mating.

  1. Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher (Ceyx erithaca)

It is also known as the three-toed kingfisher and is found across much of the Indian subcontinent. This brightly coloured bird can be found along shady streams. Be warned, though: despite its wide array of colours (red, yellow, blue, orange and white), it is a shy bird and often hard to catch sight of.

The Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher is also known as the Black-Backed Kingfisher.

  1. Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis)

It looks like the smaller cousin of the Crested Kingfisher. It’s commonly found across the Indian subcontinent close to clear water bodies. If you catch sight of one hovering over water, stay a while and watch – you won’t be disappointed.

Pied Kingfishers are valued by farmers as they kill harmful snakes and lizards. 

  1. Ruddy Kingfisher (Halcyon coromanda)

This is another mangrove dwelling species found in North-Eastern India and the Himalayas. They are known to supplement their diet of fish and crustaceans with frogs and insects.

This bird generally travels singly or in pairs.

  1. Stork-Billed Kingfisher (Pelargopsis capensis)

This is a large tree kingfisher with a huge stork-like bill – hence the name. It has a loud cackling call to go with its beak. It has been known to chase large predators like eagles away from its territory.

This species lives in a variety of well-wooded habitats near lakes, rivers, or coasts. 

  1. White-Throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis)

This is another commonly sighted kingfisher across the Indian subcontinent. Unlike most other kingfishers, you may see it away from water bodies feeding on insects, rodents, amphibians, and even birds.

The White-Throated Kingfisher is also known as the White-Breasted Kingfisher. 

Uma Athale

Uma Athale

Jeevoka member since Sep 2019

With a Master’s degree in Wildlife Conservation and Management from the University of Reading, England, I have worked with wildlife in various capacities in India and abroad, including invasive species management, species reintroduction, rehabilitation, and human-animal conflict mitigation, among others. I am also a co-author of There’s Many a Way to Keep the Elephant Away: a manual discussing various methods of human-elephant conflict mitigation published by Project Elephant.


akshat khamparia

akshat khamparia 26 Aug 2021

Great article, thanks Uma for the post.
What is Kingfisher called in indian languages ?