Common kingfishers are among the most unique-looking birds in the world. The good news about such a unique appearance is that you can almost always recognize a common kingfisher for what it is.
But what if you were challenged to find birds similar to common kingfishers? Could you do it?
This list will help! We’ll differentiate between the kingfishers and other birds that look similar to kingfishers but are part of another genus.
Birds can look like one another in color, pattern, shape, size, etc.
Let’s start by looking at the common kingfisher, then compare it to other kingfishers worldwide.
After that, we’ll look at the birds that aren’t kingfishers but share some important physical similarities!
What Kind of Bird is a Common Kingfisher?
A common kingfisher is part of the Alcedinidae family, a subcategory of Coraciiformes.
Coraciiformes include kingfishers, bee-eaters, rollers, motmots, and todies. Common kingfishers are also called Alcedo kingfishers.
Kingfishers are found in tropical climates on multiple continents. Their habitats can be found in Africa, Asia, Oceania, and Europe. They live near water, including rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds.
Kingfishers share the following traits, no matter their species:
- Large heads
- Bills that are long and sharp
- Short legs
- Stubby little tails
- Cavity-dwellers, instead of nest builders
They tend to be sexually monomorphic, which means there are minimal differences between males and females, especially in appearance. Both males and females are brightly colored.
How to Recognize a Common Kingfisher
Like other kingfishers, the common kingfisher has a large head, a large pointed bill, and short legs.
Both males and females have blue backs, wings, and heads. The chin of a common kingfisher is white, and its belly and chest are orange.
Under its eye is a small orange band that stretches to the back of the head.
The only difference between a male and a female is that the female’s lower mandible (the bottom half of the bill) is orangeish-red, and her top mandible is black. Males have all-black bills.
Kingfishers are sometimes hard to spot because they avoid people. They are brightly colored, but they hide among brightly colored foliage.
When flying over water, their turquoise color can blend with the sun’s reflection on the water, making them difficult to spot.
The easiest way to know if a kingfisher is nearby is to listen to its song. The kingfisher is known for its high-pitched, shrill-sounding whistle. Listen to the kingfisher’s song in this video.
Common kingfishers live in Europe, southern Asia, and parts of Oceania.
Other Kingfishers in the Alcedinidae Family
Let’s look at the diverse and fascinating kingfishers from around the world!
Imagine a blackish, white, and orangeish-brown kingfisher with a head that looks slightly like Woody the Woodpecker’s iconic crest. That’s an Amazon kingfisher!
Like other kingfishers, you can see these birds gliding above the water. They are medium-sized, about 12″ long, and 3.5-4.9 ounces in weight.
There can be quite a bit of variation in their coloring. Males are often described as “oily green” with white patches and a brown chest.
Females lack the same brown chest patch but can have an orange hue to their chest feathers.
They live throughout most Central and South America and get their name from their presence in the Amazon rainforests.
Azure kingfishers live in Australia. Like the common kingfisher, they are bright blue and orange. Also, like common kingfishers, azure kingfishers can be seen flying fast and low above the water.
One of the fascinating traits of the azure kingfisher is how it intimidates potential predators with its facial coloration patterns.
The azure kingfisher has two large white patches in front of the eyes. These look like huge white eyes, which may be enough to scare off a larger predator.
Azure kingfishers are small at only 6.7-7.5″ long and between 1.0-1.1 oz.
Banded kingfishers have a dramatic appearance. They are part of the Lacedo genus and can be found in southeast Asia.
Their habitat is mainly lowland tropical forests, and they live in the trees instead of on the river.
Males are bright blue and orange. Their crown and back are banded in a darker shade of blue that is almost black.
Females, on the other hand, are rufous colored. They also have a distinct banding that makes the banded kingfisher unique.
Belted kingfishers have a smaller bill than many of their family members. Atop their large heads, you will find a “shaggy” crest.
Their blue feathers, seen from above, are not as vibrant as the common kingfisher but are still quite noticeable.
They have a white belly and a thick blue band across their breast. The main difference between males and females is that females have a second band on their chest, this one in rusty brown.
This means that the female belted kingfisher is one of the only bird species in which the female is more colorful than her male counterpart!
Belted kingfishers are one of only three kingfisher species located in North America, alongside the green kingfisher and ringed kingfisher.
They live year-round throughout most of the United States, and they travel to Mexico during the nonbreeding season and Canada during the breeding season.
Collared kingfishers are in the middle of the pack regarding size. There are about 50 subspecies of collared kingfishers around the world.
They are part of the Alcedinidae family, but they are also part of the subspecies called Halcyoninae. These are tree-dwelling kingfishers.
There is a lot of variation in the coloration of these kingfishers, but in general, their backs, wings, and heads are greenish-blue, and their chests and bellies are white.
They also have a long, pointed bill broader than other kingfishers. From their chest to around their head runs a thick white collar.
They live in southeast Asia’s mangrove forests, coconut groves, tidal pools, and creeks.
The crested kingfisher lives in south Asia, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Japan, North Korea, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Thailand, and Vietnam.
This kingfisher lacks any blue and orange coloring you might first notice in other kingfishers. Instead, it has a black back with white barring and an oversized, uneven, and spiky crest.
The crested kingfisher lives along the water, but it is easier to spot than some shier kingfishers.
Instead of hiding in foliage, the crested kingfisher sits in more exposed locations, including telephone lines and posts.
Giant kingfishers look much like crested kingfishers, especially regarding their coloring and pattern.
However, they are so much bigger! At 16.5-18 inches long, the giant kingfisher is the largest kingfisher in Africa.
These huge kingfishers also have a massive, oversized bill that is much more dramatic than the average kingfisher’s bill.
They travel in pairs and live alongside rivers, swamps, and rivers. They will also inhabit saltwater areas such as mangrove forests, estuaries, and coastlines.
Males and females look similar, except for their chest and belly. Both birds have a chest band, but the male is chestnut-colored, and the female is white and black.
Green kingfishers are South American birds that look bright emerald green in the perfect sunlight. From a distance or in shade, they may look black and white.
Their bill is very large compared to the rest of the body, giving them an easily recognizable silhouette.
A male green kingfisher has a chestnut brown patch on its breast, whereas the female’s chest has two green and white bands.
On rare occasions, green kingfishers will find their way into the southern border of the US, primarily in Arizona and Texas.
They are primarily found in Mexico, Central America, and most of South America. They do not go into the Andes Mountains, meaning they are not found along the Atlantic coast of South America.
The kookaburra is the world’s largest kingfisher! Females can weigh up to a pound, and the largest kookaburras are 18″ long.
Their bellies are off-white, and their backs and heads are brown. Their wings are darker than their streaked heads. They have a very large, thick bill
These birds are often called the “Laughing Kookaburras” because of their incredibly loud, distinctive call, which sounds like a frantic laugh.
Check out the noise level on these loud, chattering kookaburras!
They are common throughout Australia, especially in Queensland and New South Wales. They can be found in various habitats, including local parks, dense forests, and campgrounds.
One of the fastest ways to differentiate a malachite kingfisher from other varieties is its bright orange bill!
These are river kingfishers with that familiar blue back, orange belly, and blue head.
They live in the southern half of Africa and have some variation in their appearance based on what region they’re in.
As long as the water is nearby, Malachite kingfishers can lead a comfortable life!
They live along rivers, streams, ponds, lakes, and rice paddies, waiting patiently until they see a fish they can dive after.
The pied kingfisher’s colors are a dramatic contrast of black and white. It also boasts a small but impressive crest.
You can differentiate between males and females by looking at the markings on their chests.
Males have two black bands across their white chests, and females have what looks like a gorget over their shoulders.
It does not meet in the middle of their chest, leaving a white patch between the edges.
Pied kingfishers are non-migratory and live in Subsaharan Africa and across Asia from Turkey to China, including India.
The ringed kingfisher has a large, bold head and a massive bill reminiscent of the giant kingfisher.
It is, in fact, the largest kingfisher in North and South America. Their range includes a small part of Texas, the Gulf Coast of Mexico, and most of Central and South America.
Ringed kingfishers have a blue-gray back, a thick, round white collar around the neck, and a rufous-brown chest and belly.
Females also have a blue-gray band, outlined in white, that stretches across the chest.
These birds are so much bolder than common kingfishers! They perch conspicuously, out in the open, where they are easy to see.
The sacred kingfisher is a common bird throughout Australia and New Zealand. Its back is blue, but its chest and belly can range from off-white to light orange.
Sacred kingfishers have small bills when compared to other kingfishers, but their bill is still larger than most other birds of their size.
They eat spiders, bugs, insects, small fish, reptiles, rodents, crustaceans, and other birds.
Their English name comes from the notes of naturalist John Latham in 1782. Their Māori name is Kōtare.
Birds That Look Like Kingfishers That Are NOT Part of the Alcedinidae Family
Some kingfishers and kingfisher-like birds are not part of the Alcedinidae family. These are some of the others you can identify.
Bee Eaters come in various species found across Africa and parts of Europe, Australia, and the South Pacific. They get their name from their diet of flying insects, including bees and wasps.
Some species look almost nothing like the kingfisher, but others have a similar bill shape and silhouette.
The European bee-eater, for example, has a similar bushy head and thick bill as wide kingfisher varieties.
Like bee-eaters and kingfishers, motmots are a part of the Coraciiformes order. Despite being related to kingfishers, motmots have little physical similarities with their cousins.
However, like many kingfishers, the broad-billed motmot has blue and orange feathers. However, the pattern is quite different.
The orange coloring of the head extends down past the neck, which is different from the orange neck and breast of most jewel-toned kingfishers.
Think of the tody as a tiny relative of the much larger kingfisher.
Five species of todies live in the Caribbean: broad-billed tody, Cuban tody, Jamaican tody, Narrow-billed tody, and Puerto Rican tody.
Like kingfishers, they are quite colorful. They also have a similar shape as most other kingfishers.
They tend to be green on top (heads, backs, and wings), red-throated, and striped on each side in white and blue-gray.
Another thing that todies have in common with kingfishers is that they are quite noisy! These vocal birds will be heard before they ever have a chance to be spotted.