Geographical Range Guam (historically); today, only exists in zoos
Habitat Formerly, forests, woodlands, mangrove swamps
Scientific Name Todiramphus cinnamomina cinnamomina
Conservation Status Extinct in the wild

Don't Be Confused!

There are three subspecies (kinds) of Guam kingfishers, all from the Pacific Islands. Two of them still exist in the wild. The subspecies at the Saint Louis Zoo, Todiramphus cinnamomina cinnamomina, used to live on the island of Guam, but it is now extinct in the wild. If it weren't for zoos, these birds would be gone forever.

Technicolor Feathers

This compact little bird is a riot of colors. Its tail is blue, its wings are a metallic greenish-blue, and the rest of the body (in males) is cinnamon-brown. Females look similar to males, but have pale breast feathers.

The bird's body is roughly the size of a robin. But like other kingfishers, its head is quite large, as is its beak.

A Taste for Meat

These birds are strictly meat-eaters. Their favorite menu items are insects, lizards, crabs, and shrimp.

They keep a lookout for prey as they perch on exposed tree branches. When they catch sight of a meal, they swoop down to grab it.

Team Parenting

Guam kingfishers believe in equality of the sexes, at least when it comes to child-rearing. Both male and female help build the nest, usually located in a hole in a tree.

Nesting season is December to July. The female lays two smooth white eggs. After the chicks hatch, both mom and dad bring food to the chicks, usually what they themselves eat.

Keeping Out the Neighbors

Kingfishers don't live in large groups; they're most often seen by themselves, or in pairs. A male defends a territory, and once he pairs with a female, the two of them defend their turf against other kingfishers.

Wiped Out By a Snake

Like many of the bird species on Guam, the Guam kingfisher fell victim to a snake. Guam had no large native snakes, but in the 1940s, people began to notice a new kind of reptile on the island: brown tree snakes. (Scientists think they arrived on the island as stowaways on cargo ships.) It didn't take long for the first brown tree snakes to multiply, since they have no natural predators on the island.

The snakes did what comes naturally: they began preying on birds and their eggs, including the Huam kingfisher. By the 1980s, there were so few kingfishers that scientists decided the only way to save them was to bring most of them into captivity, where they could be bred. They captured 29 of the remaining birds and sent them to zoos, including the Saint Louis Zoo -- just in time, since by 1988 there were no more wild Guam kingfishers on Guam.

Hope For the Future

The number of birds in captivity is at 149, as of December 2012. Studies of other wild kingfisher subspecies might yield information to help zoos boost their success with captive birds.

The eventual goal is to breed enough Guam kingfishers to be able to re-introduce them to a nearby snake-free island.

Fun Facts

  • The Guam kingfisher utters its first call of the morning at about the same time every day, usually at dawn. It does this with such regularity that, according to local belief, the bird can be used to tell time.
  • This bird makes a nest in a tree by jabbing repeatedly at the bark with its sharp beak -- while flying!

Class: Aves
Order: Coraciiformes
Family: Alcedinidae