This family consists of three subfamilies, nineteen genera, and 114 species that can be found around the world–with teh highest concentration in the Old World tropical regions.
The three subfamilies are named in part due to location–Halcyoninae (the tree kingfishers), Alcedininae (river kingfishers), and Cerylinae (water kingfishers). While it though that all kingfishers live close to water–not all kingfishers do, so live well away from the water, and therefore have different nesting habits.
While they’re associated with rivers and lakes (where else will you find fish?), in reality over half the species (more than 57 species) are actually found in forests and along streams. In addition, they can be found in deserts (namely in Australia), mountain, open woodlands, and even on some tropical coral atolls.
There are very few kingfisher species found in the New World (~3 species within North America, plus 5 species within South America), and even Europe only has one or two species native to the area. If one wants to see a wider range of kingfishers–you need to visit the tropical regions of Africa, Asia, and the Oceanic islands.
In terms of shape–they all share the common characteristics of a large head, sharp beaks, short legs, and a stubby tail. Though the length and sharpness of the beak will vary depending on the source–not all kingfishers actually are fishers. For example the shovel-billed kookaburra has a shorter and broader bill that allows for it to dig in the mud for its meal of earthworms, snails, and insects.
Their diets are as varied as their locations–some do specialize in catching and eating small fish, while others go after crustaceans, frogs, toads, worms, insects, small reptiles, and so forth.
Interesting little fact: did you know that the kookaburra in Australia is actually the heaviest species of kingfishers? Or that it was a kingfisher?
The three kingfishers that can be spotted within the United States, Canada, and Mexico are:
Photography goal: get a picture of a kingfisher on every continent, as I’m not sure if I could get a picture of every species.