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The Ancient Greeks Believed Kingfishers Were Born of Epic Love

A beautiful love story involving gods and birds and people, too
© Allan Hopkins View Large

The ancient Greeks believed the gods turned two distraught lovers into kingfishers — or “halcyon birds.” Thanks to divine assistance, these birds would enjoy calm weather during their nesting period. Even today, many kingfishers have echoes of this story in their scientific names.

Full Transcript



The Kingfisher and Halcyon Days

Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote.

[thunderstorm and a roiling sea]

When you incur the wrath of the great god Zeus, there’s not much that can save you.

Ceyx (SEE-ix) and Alcyone (al-SY-uh-nee) loved each other so much, they called each other Zeus and Hera. In a rage, the great god Zeus threw a thunderbolt, striking Ceyx’s ship and sending him to the bottom of the sea.


When Alcyone learned the news, she was so distraught, she threw herself into the sea after him.

[storm continues, crescendo, then quick abatement, dawning]

The gods, humbled by Ceyx and Alcyone’s love, took pity on them and transformed them into a pair of beautiful birds — the halcyon birds, or the birds we know as kingfishers.

[Belted Kingfisher]

The halcyon birds are said to nest each year during a period of seven days when there are no storms. “Halcyon days” have now come to refer to any period of beautiful, calm weather.

And those kingfishers? Even today, many species of kingfishers have “halcyon” or even “Ceyx” in their scientific names. And they still throw themselves into the sea.

For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein.


Producer: John Kessler

Managing Producer: Jason Saul

Editor: Ashley Ahearn

Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone

Assistant Producer: Mark Bramhill

Narrator: Mary McCann

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. ML 100770 recorded by W Hershberger.

BirdNote’s theme was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.

© 2019 BirdNote   June 2019

ID#  kingfisher-03-2019-06-03    kingfisher-03


Pronounce Ceyx -- SEE-ix      
Pronounce Alcyone al-SY-uh-nee [al like pal] 

Sights & Sounds