An Azure kingfisher is a small aquatic kingfisher. It has a long black beak and a whitish rear eye spot. This bird gets its name from its beautiful coloring, being dark glossy blue, its underside an orange-rufous and its legs and feet red. Males and females have a very similar appearance and juveniles are less vibrant in color.
The Azure kingfisher lives in Tasmania and Northern and Eastern Australia, the lowlands of New Guinea and the neighboring islands, and on North Maluku and Romang, and are found in streams and rivers, billabongs (small, stagnant lakes joined to waterways), swamps, mangroves, tidal estuaries, lagoons and various other bodies of water that have low, overhanging branches. This species is sometimes seen on rivers in parks, as well as goldfish or duck ponds in urban areas.
Habits and lifestyle
Azure kingfishers hunt in the same way as most other kingfishers, by searching the water for prey from a low-lying branch, then diving swiftly, catching the prey and returning to the branch. Then the bird flips its prey around until the head is in its mouth, so it can swallow it head first and whole to avoid being cut by the bones or scales. They can eat snakes in the same way. They are experts at diving deep for their prey. Their flight is direct and quick. They will often bob their head and move their wings in anticipation of sighting a fish. To catch a fish they stab it, with either a closed or open bill, depending on the prey’s size, and kill it by beating it on the ground or their perch to break the bones. They are most active in the morning and evening, but if it’s not too hot, they may also hunt in the afternoon. Most kingfisher species are solitary, only pairing up with a mate during breeding season.
Diet and nutrition
Azure kingfishers are piscivores, they mainly eat fish, crustaceans, aquatic insects, other invertebrates, and sometimes frogs.
Azure kingfishers are monogamous birds and form a pair that will defend a breeding territory. A pair builds its nest together, taking three to seven days to construct the tunnel. Kingfishers are fiercely territorial when defending their nests. Mating is from October to March. The female lays 5 - 7 glossy, white eggs. The eggs are incubated for three weeks by both parents. The chicks grow quickly. They are altricial (naked and helpless) on hatching and require constant feeding and care by their parents, who will bring the food to the nesting chamber. Soon the nestlings travel towards the tunnel entrance, where they meet their parents and wait to be fed. They fledge at around 30 days, from when they will feed themselves and be on their own.
Stock trampling vegetation near waterholes affects populations of this species. Human activities that result in artificial flooding of waterways may drown the nests of these birds. Unclear water also has an affect on these birds, as does the introduction of European carp, as they compete for food resources.
According to IUCN, Azure kingfisher is widespread throughout its extremely large range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently this species is classified as Least Concern (LC), however, their numbers today are decreasing.
Fun facts for kids
- Azure kingfishers take it in turn to burrow out a tunnel using their feet, then they hollow out a thin chamber at the tunnel’s end where they lay their eggs. These nesting tunnels can be as long as 1 meter.
- Transparent membranes on these birds’ eyes protect them when they dive.
- Kingfishers dive so quickly that they can cut through ice to catch fish.
- Kookaburras are a kind of kingfisher.
- Kingfisher nests will contain piles of droppings and a smelly pile of fish bones.
- Kingfishers can look bright blue, but are actually a dull brown color. The iridescent coloring we see is due to a difference between structural and pigmented coloration. If we saw light reflected directly from their wings we would see brown, but the light is bouncing around the structure of their wings.
- The call of the Azure kingfisher is a shrill high-pitched whistle that makes the noise 'pseet-pseet'. It sounds like the little kingfisher, but not as high and somewhat stronger.