Common Name: White-throated Kingfisher / White-breasted Kingfisher

Scientific Name: Halcyon smyrnensis

Red List Category and Criteria: Least Concern

Population Trend: increasing

The White-throated, or White-breasted Kingfisher is a colorful resident bird species. Males and females are turquoise blue with chocolate brown head, neck and underbelly. They have a distinctive white “shirt front” and long, heavy, pointed red bill legs, with prominent white wing patches shown in flight (Ali 2012). They are generally found as solitary, perching high on electrical wires or branches (Iqbal et al. 2011).  They let off a cackling call as they hunt in the early mornings and evenings (Ali 2012, Ali et al. 2010 a).

The density of this species is directly related to habitat type and nesting soil availability, and can correlate well with that of the Small Bee-eater (Ali et al. 2010 a). Water level fluctuations affect nesting success by altering food availability or disturbing the nesting area (Rajpar & Zakaria 2011). Over 75% of their time is spent scanning and feeding (Ali et al. 2010 a). They can be found watching over meadows or shallow water that has trees or stumps to perch on (Vencatesan et al. 2014). Common habitat includes ponds, reservoirs, coastal areas, forest edge, scrub, open woodlands, and urban garden areas (Tan 2001).

White-throated Kingfishers are mainly insectivores, but also eat fish, amphibians, small reptiles, and crustaceans (Vencatesan et al. 2014). They actively hunt their prey, and have been documented eating small rodents (Ali et al. 2010 a), and a number of other avian species including Common Iora (Aegithinian tiphia), White-throated Munias (Lonchura malabarica), White-eye (Zosteropus palpebrosus), and White-browed Fantail Flycatcher (Rhipidura aureola) (Theba 2010). When catching fish, White-throated kingfishers may hover before diving feet or beak first into the water to collect their prey (Tan 2001).  Their insect consumption  is beneficial to farmland ecosystems (Mariappan et al. 2013), and they often spend 75% of their scanning and feeding time in agricultural areas (Ali et al. 2010 a).  The birds watch from their high perches and swoop down to grab their prey, before re-perching to swallow the meal (Ali 2012).

Breeding displays can involve the male flicking his wings and tail while calling with a raised bill. Breeding pairs dig tunnels into dry sandy banks or exposed earth cuts where females will lay 3-7 white oval eggs (Ali 2012, Ali et al. 2010 b).  They rely heavily on undeveloped dirt banks to nest, though they have been documented in manmade cavities in well walls or rock quarries (Sashikumar et al. 2011). Both sexes share nesting duties. Lack of adequate food supply and starvation are cited as the main reason for nestling mortality, though in some cases, an 80% nestling success rate has been documented (Ali et al. 2010 b).  Juveniles’ feathers are a duller version of adult plumage (Ali et al. 2010 b).

White-throated Kingfishers are threatened by development projects that displace them from their nesting habitat (Shanbhag & Borges 2001). Water pollution and human traffic threatens their nesting sites, while pesticides can damage the insect food supply or poison them (Iqbal et al. 2011).

The author Calli Wise, was an intern at Care Earth from Juniata College, Pennsylvania. Photo by Vinoth.


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