Nature 7, 362-363 (13 March 1873) | doi:10.1038/007362f0

The Feeding Habits of the Belted Kingfisher



ON page 48 of Mr. Darwin’s “Expression of the Emotions,” I find the assertion, “Kingfishers when they catch a fish always beat it until it is killed.” We have, in New Jersey, one species of kingfisher, the Ceryle alcyon, which is exceedingly abundant for about seven months of the year. For several years I have observed them carefully, both feeding and breeding about the banks of Crossweeksen Creek, and I feel certain that I am correct in saying that I have never seen a kingfisher take its food otherwise than by swallowing it whole, while yet upon the wing. The fish having been swallowed, or at least, having disappeared, the kingfisher will then alight upon the branch of a tree, and will then, frequently, stretch out its neck, and go through a “gulping motion,” as though the fish was not entirely in the bird’s stomach, or perhaps was only in the æsophagus. In the thousands of instances that I have witnessed, of these birds catching small fish, I never once saw a fish taken from the water, and killed, before being devoured.