Taking the Plunge: Amazon Kingfisher


This kingfisher wields a spear-like bill that helps make it an expert fisherman. Amazon Kingfishers have well-developed vision and depth perception, adaptations to their plunge-diving hunting method that also enhance the birds’ fishing prowess. They see colors distinctly, and fully closing nictitating membranes (third eyelids) protect their eyes when they hit the water.


Amazon Kingfishers are territorial and choose a prime area based on food sources, perching trees, and roosting sites. Like other kingfishers, the Amazon excavates a tunnel up to five feet long in a muddy or sandy river bank for its nest.


The unlined burrow ends in a chamber, where the female lays three to four eggs. Two of the kingfisher’s toes are fused for much of their length, a useful adaptation for digging burrows.


Amazon Kingfishers mostly eat fish, but also take crustaceans, amphibians, and aquatic insect larvae. They perch low above the water and dive in head first to catch their prey. Because their diet is made up of fish and other aquatic life, they require areas where the water is unpolluted.


The Amazon Kingfisher has a vast range, from Mexico to Argentina. Along the mangrove estuaries of Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, the Amazon Kingfisher shares habitat with two endemic species that ABC works to protect: the Mangrove  Hummingbird and the Yellow-billed Cotinga.


Late in 2013, an Amazon Kingfisher made a rare appearance in the United States. It was enjoyed  by bird-watchers in Texas along the Rio Grande River, where ABC is actively working to protect habitat with the Rio Grande Joint Venture.


“I was lucky to get a brief glimpse of this kingfisher,” said ABC’s Mike Parr, who was visiting the region on a birding trip. “The bird was a little tricky to spot— sometimes sitting in plain view, other times disappearing for long periods. That made it all the more fun to finally connect with that great bird.”


Like its other kingfisher kin, the Amazon has a large head, chunky body, and short legs and tail. Both sexes are bronze-green with a white throat and broad white neck collar; the male also has a large chestnut patch across his chest. The Amazon Kingfisher resembles the Green Kingfisher, which shares much of its range, but is much larger.