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Alex’s Birding Chirp No. 10 – Kingfishers


Hi there everyone, hope you all are doing well. We are still on 290 confirmed bird species for our reserve; however, we still have some birders visiting us over the next few weeks which will hopefully help to push our specie count over 300.

There are ten species of Kingfisher found in Southern Africa of which eight are found in our reserve. (African Pygmy Kingfisher, Malachite Kingfisher, Half-collard Kingfisher, Giant Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Striped Kingfisher and Woodland Kingfisher) The Pygmy Kingfisher pictured here is the smallest kingfisher at only 13cm.

The name “Kingfisher” could imply that these bird species are associated with water and solely reliant on fish for a food source. This is only true for four of the eight species found in our reserve, the other four species feed mainly on insects, lizards, frogs and other small vertebrates. They are the so-called tree kingfishers (Pygmy Kingfisher also hunts from a perch) and are largely terrestrial and not necessarily found close to water. (Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Striped Kingfisher, Woodland Kingfisher and Pygmy Kingfisher). The remaining four hunts mostly in and around water, three of them mainly from a perch, plunging into water for fish but also tadpoles, frogs, small crabs and insects.(Malachite Kingfisher, Half Collard Kingfisher and the Giant Kingfisher) The Pied Kingfisher only differs in that it hover-hunts more than the others enabling it to hunt far from shore.

The Pygmy Kingfisher and the Woodland Kingfisher are intra-African migrants and can only be seen in the reserve from late September to March which is in their breeding season. The Half-collard Kingfisher is a near threatened species favouring clear fast-flowing water and has not been spotted in the reserve as yet. The Malachite Kingfisher pictured here is one of our most common water-edge birds and will seldomly be seen away from water.

Although the three smallest kingfishers are similar in size, they differ in colour and habitat.

The Pygmy Kingfisher is identified by its broad orange eyebrow and pinkish-violet patch behind its eye. Favours moist woodland and riverine margins not necessarily near water. Nests are burrowed into earth banks. Food is mostly insects. Smallest kingfisher at 13cm

The Malachite Kingfisher differs from the Pygmy by having a bright blue supercilium and no pinkish-violet wash behind the eye. Also favours aquatic habitat, seldom found away from water. Nests are burrowed into vertical bank. Food is mostly fish. Size is 14cm

The Half-collard Kingfisher differs from the other two by having an all blue head and black bill. Favours clear well vegetated fast-flowing streams. Food is mainly fish. (need to be verified in the reserve) Nest is burrowed into vertical stream bank.

The Pied Kingfisher is the only kingfisher in the region with all black and white plumage. The male kingfisher has two black bands across the chest which looks similar to a bowtie. While the female has a singular broad band often split down the middle; a startling likeness to a bikini!

The distinctive hunting technique of pied kingfishers has earned the species a few records. Not only are they the largest hovering bird. But they are also the only kingfishers with the ability to perform a figure of eight wing stroke. Otherwise known as hovering. They hunt by hovering 50-65 feet above the water and then diving headfirst into the water.

Pied kingfishers never hunt on land. Their diet consists predominantly of fish, with a few crustaceans on the side. Nests are tunnelled in a bank close to waters edge. Size is 25cm


The Giant Kingfisher is the largest kingfisher at 44cm (similar to a francolin in size).

Easily recognisable by its large size, rufous upper breast and speckled slaty throat and belly. Frequents margins of rivers, dams, lakes and lagoons.

Feeds mainly on fish like tilapia of up to 18cm, also frogs and aquatic invertebrates. Nests are tunnelled 1-3m into a vertical bank close to the waters edge.


In our next chat we will continue with the Kingfishers.