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White-throated kingfisher

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White-throated kingfisher
H. s. fusca (Sri Lanka)
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Coraciiformes
Family: Alcedinidae
Subfamily: Halcyoninae
Genus: Halcyon
H. smyrnensis
Binomial name
Halcyon smyrnensis
     distribution (includes gularis)

Alcedo smyrnensis Linnaeus, 1758

The white-throated kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis) also known as the white-breasted kingfisher is a tree kingfisher, widely distributed in Asia from the Sinai east through the Indian subcontinent to China and Indonesia. This kingfisher is a resident over much of its range, although some populations may make short distance movements. It can often be found well away from water where it feeds on a wide range of prey that includes small reptiles, amphibians, crabs, small rodents and even birds. During the breeding season they call loudly in the mornings from prominent perches including the tops of buildings in urban areas or on wires.


The white-throated kingfisher is one of the many birds that were first formally described by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus in 1758 in the tenth edition of his Systema Naturae. He coined the binomial name Alcedo smyrnensis.[2][3] Linnaeus cited Eleazar Albin's Natural History of Birds published in 1738 that included a description and a plate of the "Smirna Kingfisher".[4] Albin's specimen was preserved in alcohol and had been collected by the botanist William Sherard who served as the British Consul at Smyrna between 1703 and 1716.[4][5] The present genus Halcyon was introduced by the English naturalist and artist William John Swainson in 1821.[6] Halcyon is a name for a bird in Greek mythology generally associated with the kingfisher. The specific epithet smyrnensis is an adjective for the city of Smyrna (now İzmir in Turkey).[7]

Five subspecies are recognised:[8]

  • H. s. smyrnensis (Linnaeus, 1758) – south Turkey to north east Egypt, Iraq to northwest India
  • H. s. fusca (Boddaert, 1783) – west India and Sri Lanka
  • H. s. perpulchra Madarász, 1904 – Bhutan to east India, Indochina, the Malay Peninsula and west Java
  • H. s. saturatior Hume, 1874 – Andaman Islands
  • H. s. fokiensis Laubmann & Götz, 1926 – south and east China, Taiwan and Hainan

The brown-breasted kingfisher (H. gularis) of the Philippines is usually now considered as a separate species.[9][10] Support for this treatment was provided by a molecular study published in 2017 that found that H. s. gularis was more closely related to the Javan kingfisher (H. cyanoventris) than it was to the white-throated kingfisher.[11] They were split as distinct species by the IUCN Red List and BirdLife International in 2014, and the International Ornithological Congress followed suit in 2022.[12] The races H. s. perpulchra and H. s. fokiensis are sometimes included in H. s. fusca.[13]

Local names include Baluchistan: aspi chidok; Sindhi: dalel; Hindi: kilkila, kourilla; Himachal Pradesh: neela machhrala; Punjabi: wadda machhera; Bengali: sandabuk machhranga; Assamese: māsorokā, মাছৰোকা; Cachar: dao natu gophu; Gujarati: kalkaliyo, safedchati kalkaliyo; Marathi: khundya; Tamil: vichuli; Telugu: lakmuka, buchegadu; Malayalam: ponman; Kannada: Minchulli(ಮಿಂಚುಳ್ಳಿ),rajamatsi; Sinhalese: pilihuduwa.[14]


At Singapore Botanic Gardens
At Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India

This is a large kingfisher, 27–28 cm (10.6–11.0 in) in length. The adult has a bright blue back, wings and tail. Its head, shoulders, flanks and lower belly are chestnut, and the throat and breast are white. The large bill and legs are bright red. The flight of the white-throated kingfisher is rapid and direct, the short rounded wings whirring. In flight, large white patches are visible on the blue and black wings. Sexes are similar, but juveniles are a duller version of the adult.[15]

This species forms a superspecies with Halcyon cyanoventris and most major works recognize four geographic races. They vary clinally in size, the shades of blue on the mantle which is more greenish in smyrnensis and fusca and more blue or purplish in saturatior. H. s. gularis of the Philippines has only the neck and throat white. It is sometimes treated as a distinct species, H. gularis. Race fusca is found in Peninsular India and Sri Lanka and is slightly smaller, bluer and with a darker brown underside than the nominate race found in northwestern India. Race saturatior is found in the Andaman Islands and is larger with darker brown underparts. Race perpulchra (not always recognized) is found in northeastern India and is smaller than fusca with paler underparts.[16] Albinism has been noted on occasion.[17]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The white-throated kingfisher is a common species in a variety of habitats, mostly open country in the plains (but has been seen at 7500 ft in the Himalayas[18]) with trees, wires or other perches. The range of the species is expanding.

This kingfisher is widespread and populations are not threatened. Average density of 4.58 individuals per km2. has been noted in the Sundarbans mangroves.[19]

Behaviour and ecology[edit]


Couple of White-throated-Kingfisher

The white-throated kingfisher begins breeding at the onset of the Monsoons. Males perch on prominent high posts in their territory and call in the early morning. The tail may be flicked now and in its courtship display the wings are stiffly flicked open for a second or two exposing the white wing mirrors. They also raise their bill high and display the white throat and front. The female in invitation makes a rapid and prolonged kit-kit-kit... call. The nest is a tunnel (50 cm long, but a nest with a 3-foot tunnel has been noted[20]) in an earth bank. The nest building begins with both birds flying into a suitable mud wall until an indentation is made where they can find a perch hold. They subsequently perch and continue digging the nest with their bills. Nest tunnels in a haystack have also been recorded.[21] A single clutch of 4–7 round white eggs is typical. The eggs take 20–22 days to hatch while the chicks fledge in 19 days.[22][23][24]

Feeding and diet[edit]

It perches conspicuously on wires or other exposed perches within its territory, and is a frequent sight in south Asia. This species mainly hunts large crustaceans,[25] insects, earthworms,[26] rodents, lizards,[27][28][29] snakes, fish and frogs.[30][31] Predation of small birds such as the Indian white-eye, chick of a red-wattled lapwing, sparrows and munias have been reported.[22][32][33] The young are fed mostly on invertebrates.[34] In captivity, it has been noted that it rarely drinks water although bathing regularly.[35]


Birds have sometimes been seen attracted to lights at night, especially during the monsoon season, suggesting that they are partly migratory.[22]


With a powerful bill and rapid flight, these kingfishers have few predators when healthy and rare cases of predation by a black kite[36] and a jungle crow may be of sick or injured birds.[37] An individual found dead with its beak embedded into the wood of a tree has been suggested as an accident during rapid pursuit of prey, possibly an Indian white-eye.[33] A few parasites have been noted.[38]

In the 1800s these birds were hunted for their bright feathers that were used to adorn hats.[39] It is the State bird of West Bengal.[40]


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2017). "Halcyon smyrnensis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2017: e.T22725846A119289544. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-3.RLTS.T22725846A119289544.en. Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  2. ^ Linnaeus, Carl (1758). Systema Naturæ per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis, Volume 1 (in Latin). Vol. v.1 (10th ed.). Holmiae (Stockholm): Laurentii Salvii. p. 116.
  3. ^ Peters, James Lee, ed. (1945). Check-list of Birds of the World. Vol. 5. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 196.
  4. ^ a b Albin, Eleazar; Derham, William (1738). A natural history of birds : illustrated with a hundred and one copper plates, curiously engraven from the life. Vol. 3. London: Printed for the author and sold by William Innys. p. 26, Plate 27.
  5. ^ "Sherard, William" . Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
  6. ^ Swainson, William John (1821). Zoological illustrations. Vol. 1. London: Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy; and W. Wood. Plate 27 text.
  7. ^ Jobling, James A. (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. pp. 185, 358. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  8. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David, eds. (2017). "Rollers, ground rollers & kingfishers". World Bird List Version 7.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 28 May 2017.
  9. ^ del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N.; Kirwan, G.M. (2017). del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J.; Christie, D.A.; de Juana, E. (eds.). "White-throated Kingfisher (Halcyon gularis)". Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions. Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  10. ^ Collar, Nigel J. (2011). "Species limits in some Philippine birds including the Greater Flameback Chrysocolaptes lucidus" (PDF). Forktail. 27: 29–38.
  11. ^ Andersen, M.J.; McCullough, J.M.; Mauck III, W.M.; Smith, B.T.; Moyle, R.G. (2017). "A phylogeny of kingfishers reveals an Indomalayan origin and elevated rates of diversification on oceanic islands". Journal of Biogeography. 45 (2): 1–13. doi:10.1111/jbi.13139.
  12. ^ "IOC World Bird List 12.1". IOC World Bird List Datasets. doi:10.14344/ioc.ml.12.1. Retrieved 2022-01-29.
  13. ^ Woodall, P.F.; Kirwan, G.M. (2017). del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J.; Christie, D.A.; de Juana, E. (eds.). "White-breasted Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis)". Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions. Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  14. ^ Anonymous (1998). "Vernacular Names of the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent" (PDF). Buceros. 3 (1): 53–109. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-04-01. Retrieved 2008-10-19.
  15. ^ Fry, C. H.; Fry, K.; Harris, A. (1992). Kingfishers, Bee-eaters, and Rollers. London: Christopher Helm. pp. 143–145. ISBN 978-0-7136-8028-7.
  16. ^ Rasmussen, Pamela C.; Anderton, John C. (2012). Birds of South Asia. The Ripley Guide. Vol. 2: Attributes and Status (2nd ed.). Washington D.C. and Barcelona: Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and Lynx Edicions. pp. 264–265. ISBN 978-84-96553-87-3.
  17. ^ Gunawardana, J. (1993). "Description of an albino White-breasted Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis)". Ceylon Bird Club Notes (June): 56–57.
  18. ^ Khacher, Lavkumar J (1970). "Notes on the White-eye (Zosterops palpebrosa) and Whitebreasted Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis)". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 67 (2): 333.
  19. ^ Reza, A.H.M.A.; Feeroz, M.M.; Islam, M.A. & Kabir, M.M. (2003). "Status and density of kingfishers (family: Alcedinidae, Halcyonidae and Cerylidae) in the Sundarbans mangrove forest, Bangladesh" (PDF). Bangladesh Journal of Life Sciences. 15 (1): 55–60.
  20. ^ Law, SC (1925). "Nesting habits of the Indian Whitebreasted Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis fusca". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 30 (2): 477–478.
  21. ^ Balasubramanian, P (1992). "New nesting site of the Indian Whitebreasted Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis fusca (Boddaert)". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 89 (1): 124.
  22. ^ a b c Ali, S. & Ripley, S.D. (1983). Handbook of the birds of India and Pakistan. Vol. 4 (Second ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 90–93.
  23. ^ Palkar SB; Lovalekar RJ; Joshi VV (2009). "Breeding biology of White-breasted Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis" (PDF). Indian Birds. 4 (3): 104–105.
  24. ^ Hume, AO (1890). The nests and eggs of Indian birds. Vol. 3 (2nd ed.). R H Porter, London. pp. 15–19.
  25. ^ Tehsin, Raza (1995). "Crab-eating by Whitebreasted Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis (Linn.)". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 92 (1): 121.
  26. ^ Yahya, HSA; Yasmin, Shahla (1991). "Earthworms in the dietary of the Whitebreasted Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis (Linn.)". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 88 (3): 454.
  27. ^ YC Wee (20 May 2008). "White-throated Kingfisher swallowing lizard". Bird Ecology Study Group.
  28. ^ Roni Way (11 March 2020). "White-Throated Kingfisher eating a Lizard - Birds of Israel". YouTube.
  29. ^ "White-throated kingfisher feeding on a skink near Gurgaon, India". Reddit. 16 July 2020.
  30. ^ Roberts, T J; Priddy, C (1965). "Food of the Whitebreasted Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis (Linnaeus)". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 62 (1): 152–153.
  31. ^ Tehsin, Raza (1989). "Feeding behaviour of Whitebreasted Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis (Linnaeus)". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 86 (3): 449.
  32. ^ Sen, SN (1944). "Food of the White-breasted Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis fusca)". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 44 (3): 475.
  33. ^ a b Purandare, Kiran Vasant (2008). "Freak accidental death of a White-breasted Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis" (PDF). Indian Birds. 4 (1): 23.
  34. ^ Burton NHK (1998). "Notes on the diet of nestling White-throated Kingfishers Halcyon smyrnensis in Malaysia" (PDF). Forktail. 14: 79–80. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-10-11. Retrieved 2008-10-02.
  35. ^ Harper, EW (1900–1901). "The White-breasted Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis in captivity". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 13 (2): 364–365.
  36. ^ Narayanan, E (1989). "Pariah Kite Milvus migrans capturing Whitebreasted Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 86 (3): 445.
  37. ^ Balasubramanian, P. (1990). "Behaviour of southern spotted owlet Athene brama brama (Temminck) and jungle crow (Temminck) and jungle crow Corvus macrorhynchos at Point Calimere, Tamil Nadu". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 87 (1): 145.
  38. ^ Nandi, A.P.; De, N.C.; Majumdar, G. (1985). "Records of two new nematodes (Acuariidae) parasitizing kingfishers (Coraciiformes) of West Bengal India". Helminthologia. 22 (3): 161–170.
  39. ^ Lockwood, E. (1878). Natural history, sport and travel. W.H. Allen and Co. pp. 185–186.
  40. ^ "Government of India webpage for National and State symbols". Archived from the original on 2013-11-12.

Further reading[edit]

  • Cramp, Stanley, ed. (1985). "Halcyon smyrnensis White-breasted Kingfisher". Handbook of the birds of Europe the Middle East and North Africa. The Birds of the Western Palearctic. Volume IV: Terns to Woodpeckers. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 701–705. ISBN 0-19-857507-6.
  • Mohanty, Banalata (2006). "Extracellular Accumulations in the Avian Pituitary Gland: Histochemical Analysis in Two Species of Indian Wild Birds". Cells Tissues Organs. 183 (2): 99–106. doi:10.1159/000095514. PMID 17053326. S2CID 27807234.
  • Oommen, M; Andrews, MI (1996). "Awakening, roosting and vocalization behaviour of the Whitebreasted Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis fusca (Boddaert)". Pavo. 34 (1&2): 43–46.
  • Oommen, M; Andrews, MI (1993). "Breeding biology of the Whitebreasted Kingfisher, Halcyon smyrnensis". In Verghese, A; Sridhar, S; Chakravarthy, AK (eds.). Bird Conservation: Strategies for the Nineties and Beyond. Ornithological Society of India, Bangalore. pp. 177–180.
  • Oommen, M; Andrews, MI (1998) Food and feeding habits of the Whitebreasted Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis. Chap. 19. In: Birds in Agricultural Ecosystem. (Eds: Dhindsa, MS; Rao, P Syamsunder; Parasharya, BM) Society for Applied Ornithology, Hyderabad, 132–136.
  • Ticehurst, CB (1927). "Remarks on races of Halcyon smyrnensis and descriptions of two new subspecies – Zosterops palpebrosa occidentis and Z.P. nilgiriensis". Bull. Brit. Orn. Club. 47 (312): 87–90.

External links[edit]