Stalking the Stork Billed Kingfisher

Stork Billed Kingfisher

Stork Billed Kingfishers are majestic birds seen quite commonly in Singapore, that have remained true to their kingfisher heritage… they dine predominantly, though not exclusively, on fish.  Many naturalists categorise kingfishers these days into either River Kingfishers (like this one, and the Common Kingfisher ) or Tree Kingfishers (such as Collared, or White Throated).

I’ve had a fascination with kingfishers since around the age of 13, when a Common Kingfisher in the UK chose to use my fishing rod as a perch. The bird seemingly glanced in my direction and then proceeded to dive towards my feet with careless abandon, emerging from the water merely a few feet from where I was sitting, with its’ catch held firmly in its’ bill. The bird returned to its’ perch on my fishing rod, shook the fish against my rod, cast me another accusatory glance, and flew off to eat the meal in peace.

In Singapore, we are blessed with several types of kingfishers, each of whom have their own personalities, habits, and indeed habitats. The Stork Billed Kingfisher (SBKF) is perhaps not as widespread as other species, but surely is a beautiful bird. I’d recently bought a longer lens for my bird photography and wanted to practice Birds In Flight (BIF) photography. What better subject, I thought, than the SBKF. So off I went to Pasir Ris mangroves, in search of what has become one of my favourite birds…

At first I took photographs of the SBKF with a Canon EF70-200mm f2.8 lens, fitted with a 1.4x teleconverter, just to get a feel for BIF photography. I thought it would be easier to keep the bird in the viewfinder whilst it flew, given my unpolished skills. After that I traded up to a Canon EF 300mm f2.8 lens, with a 2x teleconverter, and eventually progressed to a Canon EF 500mm f4 lens, with a1.4x teleconverter, all over the space of a few weeks.

After a period of heavy rain in Singapore, the Pasir Ris council decided to release water from catchment drains, that flow into the Tampines River. I’d prepared myself to shoot the SBKF, but when an inflatable dam was released, the torrent of water that ensued was quite considerable, as it made its’ way out towards the sea. Fellow birders packed equipment and left, as the water was terribly coloured and it seems unlikely that the SBKF I could see, perched in search of its’ next meal, would be able to spot fish in all the murkiness. I thought I’d wait a while and see if this smart bird had other hunting strategies in mind… I’m SO happy I did! The SBKF eventually espied a fish on the surface, and launched itself towards what may have been its’ only meal until the waters’ cloudiness eventually cleared…

I Spy, with my little eye…

I followed the bird through my lens as it flattened out, uncharacteristically, along the surface of the water.



I hadn’t seen the fish, as it was easily 30 metres or more away from me, but I could see the bird was definitely after  prey of some kind. Then through the viewfinder I saw momentarily the outline of the fish, and I began shooting in high speed, with autofocus set to servo. What a thrill! I hoped I had managed to at least get a few good shots of this…


The SBKF didn’t plunge into the water with verve, as it typically would; it focused more on grabbing the fish, almost casting abandon to its’ more traditional “missile shaped” attack and spectacular water entry strategies. But Mr Storkbill was victorious in securing its’ meal and pinned the fish between its’ mandibles, ensuring no chance of escape for the unsuspecting fish.

The splash, predictably, came, but not with the total disappearance of the bird for a microsecond, as is usual. The trajectory was too shallow to lose sight of the bird underwater, and given the waters’ ruddiness, it’s likely the bird is smart enough not to dive deeply, as underwater obstructions and debris surely would not be visible.

A more controlled ‘splash’ than usual…

The bird placed all emphasis on ensuring the catch was held tight. I’m guessing that chicks were nearby and needed to be fed… most likely the bird was going to consume the prey and then regurgitate later? At that point I didn’t know. The bird emerged from the water majestically  and took flight…



A successful hunting foray for the SBKF and a hasty return to a perch followed…

Back at the perch, now to get ready for my meal…

Kingfishers are very cautious and have a clear process that needs to be followed before merrily consuming their catches. It’s not just a simple case of gulping down the fish straight away, as its’ life would be endangered if it did that…

First of all, the fish needs to be killed or at least stunned, before anything else is taken into account. And that means the fish needs smacking heartily against a thick branch.

Get ready to be stunning…
SMACK! That’s going to do it…







As the fish is audibly thwacked on the branch, the protective membrane on the birds eyes are called upon for protection. This shields the birds’ eyes from its’ prey’s fins, tail or splashing water.

After all that, next comes the act of swallowing the fish – and another process that can’t be trifled with. The bird needs to make sure that any spines that are on the fish do not get caught up in the birds’ throat – it could easily choke, otherwise.

Let’s turn the fish around so I can swallow it head first…

So the prey is manipulated into swallowing position (always head first, so that spines and fins are all flattened), and then swallowing is simply a breeze.

Merely a large “gulp” and the meal has been sought with much patience, caught with total panache, and then handled with care and precision.

A-Hunting we shall go…

After that, all that remains is to seek out another fish… which is exactly what this fellow did!


Happy Days !



11 thoughts on “Stalking the Stork Billed Kingfisher”

  1. Adrian,
    This is a great blog, good choice of words, great narative and excellent pictures.
    It was bad luck that you could not shoot much when in India, however that wud change next time you are here.

    Hope to learn more from you next time around.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Enjoyed your post and the lovely kingfisher photos. I just captured my first picture of a Belted Kingfisher yesterday, in the southeast United States. It was a thrill. Can’t imagine what it was like at age 13 to have one land on your fishing rod.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Took a quick look at your post Kathy… NICE! Nice neighbours you have too!!! Cool! I’d love to shoot a Belted KF… maybe next time I’m in the US I’ll try and do that! Thanks for commenting and I hope you like my future posts


  3. Hi Adrian,

    Guess this is the series you were telling me at the bridge just a while back.

    Not sure if there is an error in the number I gave you, but it looked right, and I haven’t gotten your message though


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