It is said that when the sea is calm, it is because the kingfishers are sitting on their nests. Halcyon is another name for the bird, which in Greek means ‘conceiving on the sea’, and before it was known that the birds nest in burrows, the belief was widespread that they laid their eggs at sea in floating nests of fishbone.
According to Greek legend, Halcyone, daughter of the god of the winds, married Ceyx, son of the day star. Ceyx drowned in a storm at sea, and the gods, taking pity on his wife, restored him to life, but turned them both into kingfishers. For 14 days of each year, while Haycyone is on her nest, her father holds back the wind – hence the expression, ‘halcyon days’. This legend may also make sense of the traditional country belief that dead kingfishers make good weather-vanes – their bodies are said to turn in the direction of the wind.