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Kingfishers and Relatives

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Kingfishers and relatives - Coraciiformes

Kingfishers and relatives - Coraciiformes

Photo © Shhowe / Dreamstime.
Kingfishers and their relatives (Coraciiformes) are a group of mostly carnivorous birds that includes kingfishers, toddies, rollers, bea-eaters, motmots, hoopies and hornbills. The species that belong to this group vary greatly in size. On the small end of the scale are the West Indian toddies that weigh as little as one-quarter ounce. On the heavy end of the scale are the cumbersome hornbills of southeast Asia, whose wingspan can reach 5 feet.

Some members of this group are solitary birds while others form large colonies. Hornbills are solitary hunters that defend their territory. Bee-eaters, on the other hand, are gregarious and nest in dense groups. They thus enjoy the protection from predators that large groups offer, with so many eyes on the lookout for danger.

Most kingfishers and their relatives employ a hunting technique referred to as "spot-and swoop" and which consists of the bird siting atop a favorite perch waiting to spot their prey. When prey stumbles into range, the bird swoops down to capture their quarry and then returns to the perch for the kill. They beat the prey against the branch to disable it before eating it or returning to the nest to feed their young. Bee-eaters, which feed primarily on bees, rub the insect against the branch to discharge the stinger before making a meal of the bee.

Kingfishers and their relatives have a large head in relation to the rest of their body. Most have rounded wings with the exception of bee-eaters whose wings are pointed. Their pointed wings enable them to maneuver mid-air with great agility, a skill that helps them to capture their flying insect prey. Many species are brightly colored and all have feet with three forward-pointing toes and one backward pointing toe.

Kingfishers and their relatives nest in tree holes or dig tunnels into banks of dirt such as those that line the edges of rivers. Hornbills exhibit the unique behavior of sealing the female and eggs in the cavity of a tree, using mud to plaster the hole nearly shut. A small opening is left to enable the male to pass food to the female and young. Kingfishers and their relatives lay as many as 10 eggs when they breed and when their young hatch they are blind and featherless.

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