King-Fisher, or Alcedo, L. a genus of birds frequenting every quarter of the world, and comprising numerous species ; the principal of which is the ispida, or common king-fisher.
This bird is about the size of a swallow; of a clumsy shape; and the bill disproportionately long. But the great beauty and variety of its plumage amply atone for its, inelegant form. The crown of its head, and the coverts of its wings, are of a deep blackish green, spotted with a bright azure tint; the back and tail exhibit the most resplendent shades : the whole interior side of the body is of an orange cast; and the tail, consisting of twelve feathers, presents a rich deep blue. When flying, in a bright day, the plumage of this bird exhibits a variety of the most dazzing colours.
The female king-fisher constructs her nest in holes scooped out of the sides of cliffs, to the depth of 3 feet; and deposits from five to nine eggs, of a semi-transparent white. She begins to lay early in the season, and excludes her first brood about the month of April; as the period of incubation does not exceed twenty days. While she is brooding, the male plentifully supplies her with fish; and, unlike most other birds, the female in that season is muscular and plump.
King-fishers are the most rapacious little animals that skim the deep; and, though of diminutive size, they devour almost incredible numbers of fish. Hence, their flesh is unfit to be eaten; but their beautiful plumage retains its lustre longer than that of any other bird.