Guam Kingfisher

Guam Kingfisher (Todiramphus cinnamominus)

Extinct in the Wild

At less than half the size of North America’s Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon), the Guam Kingfisher is among the smallest in the kingfisher family.  It’s a startlingly colorful species, with shining blue-green wings and back, and a warm red chestnut head.  The males have the same chestnut color all the way down onto their bellies, while female Guam Kingfishers are a striking white underneath.

Formerly common and widespread on their home island of Guam, the Guam Kingfisher is now extinct in the wild.  The remaining population survives by being carefully managed in mainland United States zoos and select breeding facilities on Guam.

Before 1970, the tiny island of Guam was home to at least 120 species of forest-dwelling birds, 11 of which were found nowhere else in the world.  Then, shortly after the end of WWII, an innocuous brown snake stowed away in a Navy cargo carrier and found its way onto the island.  Loose in a land filled with animals not evolved to deal with snakes, and lacking any predators to check its own reproduction, the Brown Tree Snake population exploded.  By 1976, the Guam Kingfisher population had been reduced to 150 pairs; by 1985, that number had further fallen to 10 pairs (only one of which bred successfully) and 10 un-mated males.

Biologists at the Guam Department of Agriculture realized that drastic action was needed if they were going to save this species.  In 1986, the last 29 Guam Kingfishers left in the world were rounded up and transported to protected breeding areas on Guam and to zoos in the United States.

As of 2016, the population of Guam Kingfishers had grown almost five-fold to 124 birds.  The National Aviary is proud to have contributed more than a dozen birds to this number, and continues to successfully breed and manage the Guam Kingfishers under its care.  It’s hoped that the Guam Kingfisher may soon join its fellow native – the Guam Rail – in reintroduction to protected breeding spaces on Guam and nearby islands.