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Green Kingfisher Life History


Rivers and StreamsGreen Kingfishers in the United States frequent freshwater environments where the water is clear and either still or slow-moving. They require well-wooded shorelines with hunting perches that hang directly over the water. They often use willow trees as hunting perches but also old pipes, bridge supports, or rocks. They frequent not just rivers, lakes, and ponds like larger kingfishers but also creeks, brooks, and streams. When nesting, they dig burrows into bare banks next to water. In their large range through Mexico, Central, can also be found in nearly dry creek beds in canyons, flooded scrub forest, mangrove swamps, and muddy rivers, where they frequently perch in the open, in contrast to their behavior in Texas and Arizona. Back to top



Green Kingfishers prey mostly on small freshwater fish, which they capture by rapid dives from a low perch over water. The dive is diagonal and usually just a few feet from the water's edge. The bird does not submerge completely, normally only inserting the bill and head. Small fish are swallowed quickly, head first; with larger prey, the bird may strike the fish against a perch before swallowing. Sometimes the prey item disappears before the dive is completed, and the bird suddenly pulls out of the dive and returns to a perch. Unlike Belted and Ringed Kingfishers, Green seldom hunts by hovering. Instead, Green Kingfishers perch quietly inside vegetation and scan the water for prey intently. In addition to fish, they may prey on characids, shrimp, dragonfly nymphs, waterbugs, and ants.

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Nest Placement

BurrowNest are set at the end of a burrow excavated by both adults in the bank of a river or stream. Burrows can be 3 feet long. The entrance hole, well above the high-water mark and often concealed by vegetation, is scarcely more than 2 inches in diameter.

Nest Description

Nest depressions are just bare earth at the end of a burrow, sometimes containing the remains of prey items.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:3-6 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:0.9 in (2.4 cm)
Egg Width:0.8 in (1.9 cm)
Incubation Period:19-21 days
Nestling Period:26-27 days
Egg Description:White or cream-colored.
Condition at Hatching:Naked and helpless.
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Aerial Dive (water)Green Kingfishers hunt alone and even when pairs form during the breeding season, they do not interact extensively except inside the nest burrow. Both male and female defend nesting territories (short stretches of river or other water bodies). Conflict between territory holders and intruders can involve swift chases and violent midair clashes, sometimes with locked bills. Belted Kingfishers are dominant over Green and sometimes chase the smaller species, but at least in Texas, all three kingfisher species (Ringed, Belted, Green) generally tolerate the presence of the others nearby. Both adults excavate the burrow, incubate the eggs, and feed the young. When changing places at the burrow, the male often calls softly, the female less often. They usually stay with the young for several months before the family disperses. Some burrows are reused in successive mating seasons, possibly by returning pairs. Back to top


Low Concern

Populations of Green Kingfisher in the United States declined in the twentieth century, particularly with rapid urbanization around Austin and San Antonio and also as a result of agricultural irrigation practices, damming of waterways, and livestock grazing. Conservation efforts have led to their reappearance in some sites since the 1980s. The Green Kingfisher remains relatively common in its immense range south of the U.S.–Mexico border. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 20 million and rates the species a 9 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. Like other kingfishers, Green is sensitive to disturbance around the nest, which limits suitable nesting areas to sites without frequent human presence. Key issues for Green Kingfishers include conservation of rivers and streams, reforestation of degraded stream woodlands, reduction of pollutants entering the water table, and management of grazing.

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Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight (2020). Population Estimates Database, version 3.1.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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