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Pied Kingfisher

Cedryle rudis


The only entirely black and white kingfisher has white-spotted, black upperparts and white underparts, with a broad band of black streaks on the upper-breast and a narrow black bar below, as well as a prominent white eyebrow and a black eyeband that stretches to the back of the neck, white throat and collar and a white patch on the wing-coverts. The rump is barred black and white, the iris is brown, and the weak, fleshy, feet and legs are black. The male pied kingfisher is distinguished from the female by the presence of two full breast bands; the female has just a single incomplete band. Young pied kingfishers are similar to adult females, but with the lores, chin, throat, and breast feathers tipped with brown.

Pied Kingfishers, male on left, female on right

Body mass ranges from 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 ounces, typical body length is 9-3/4 to 11-1/2 inches, and wing length is 5-1/4 to 5-1/2 inches. Females tend to be slightly larger than males, but the size difference is usually so slight that it can only be seen when the two sexes are close together.

Distribution and Habitat

Pied kingfishers range across most of sub-saharan African, the Middle East, the Asia mainland, and southern China.

distribution of the pied kingfisher

They live along streams, lakes, rivers, estuaries, irrigation ditches, canals, bays, floodlands, and reedy inlets. Near mountainous areas, they live in lower river valleys. They usually avoid mangroves and large swamps, and are less abundant near fast flowing waters.


Not surprisingly, the pied kingfisher feeds primarily on fish, but may also take aquatic insects, crustaceans, and, more rarely, amphibians and mollusks. Unlike other kingfishers, pied kingfishers usually swallow their fish in flight.

Pied kingfishers employ a variety of fishing strategies. Hover-plunge occurs when a bird leaves a perch and progressively flies to lower and lower heights until it finally plunges into the water to pierce the prey. Perch-plunge is a tactic in which the bird sits on a perch waiting for a fish to swim close enough so that it can plunge directly into the water after a fish. With this method, a bird will increase its perch height with an increased depth of water. A skimming bird will fly close to the water about 325 feet offshore, but little is known about this process because it is difficult to gather data on this hunting method. Still, this method makes pied kingfishers unique because it is the only species of kingfisher that will forage offshore. Pied kingfishers can compensate for the refraction index of water by increasing their acceleration and dive angle as the depth of the prey increases.


Pied kingfishers breed in winter in the northern and southern parts of their range, and in any month near the equator.

Courtship involves dancing displays and males offering food to females. Dancing displays are gregarious and done with 3 to 12 males at one time. They noisily call to each other while holding their wings half spread and may also engage in fights by interlocking their beaks or holding their wings. Males attract females by offering food over a period of about three weeks. Once formed, breeding pairs are monogamous, and both sexes assist in digging nest holes. Nests can be built alone or colonially with up to 100 other birds building nests in the same area. They are built along creeks and rivers and take 23 to 26 days to complete. Colonial nesting is more common in Africa than in India.

Eggs are laid at intervals of one day and begin three days after burrow completion. Eggs are glossy, white and round, and a typical clutch contains five eggs (with 1 to 7 being possible). The eggs are incubated by both parents for 18 days. Hatchlings will be fed by parents for up to two months after fledging, but will begin diving for food two weeks after fledging. Young kingfishers will grow their flight feathers between 11 and 13 days after hatching.

Pied kingfisher parents typically have several male breeder-helpers per nest of two kinds: primary and secondary. Usually there is only one primary helper, most often these are sons of the breeding male. This helper focuses on feeding the nestlings. Secondary helpers are unrelated and show up a few days after the nestlings hatch. They are at first warded away, but eventually are tolerated and focus on feeding the female. Both sexes protect the nest and hatchlings with vocalizations and threat behaviors.

Other Information

The pied kingfisher is the largest bird able to hover for a sustained period of time. In flight, it holds the body almost vertical, with the head and bill angled sharply downwards, and beats the wings extremely rapidly. Other characteristic behaviors include the exhibition of a regular bobbing of the head or tail. It bathes by repeatedly diving into water, flies without undulation, and rarely hunts on land.

a hovering pied kingfisher

Pied kingfishers perch on the sides of streams on waterside vegetation to conserve energy. They also perch on manmade objects such as fences, canoes, and huts.

A very vocal bird, the pied kingfisher is often heard before it is seen. It is most noisy when performing courtship dances. Noisy chirps are also uttered in flight, and to mark territory during nesting.

Scientific Classification

phylum Chordata
subphylum Vertebrata
class Aves
order Coraciiformes
family Cerylidae
genus & species Ceryle rudis

Animal Diversity Web

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The Robinson Library >> Science >> Zoology >> Birds >> Order Coraciiformes

This page was last updated on February 20, 2017.