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Halcyon birds

December 11, 2017

Malachite kingfisher in the Selous - photo by David Liebst

 

The Malachite kingfisher is a joyous sight - its wonderful names both in common and scientific forms (Halcyon senegaloides) reflect the beauty of this tiny bird.

 

Malachite kingfisher landing - photo by David Liebst

 

The Malachite is most easily seen from the water - so though it can be spotted in Zanzibar and along the Tanzania coast, a boat safari in the Selous is one of the best platforms for viewing it. 

 

 

This little film was taken by Lake Manze camp in the Selous, showing that the favourite habitat of this bird is near river or lake banks. 


This is a small kingfisher, 13 cm (5.1 in) in length. The general color of the upper parts of the adult bird is bright metallic blue. The head has a short crest of black and blue feathers, which gives rise to the scientific name. The face, cheeks, and underparts are rufous and there are white patches are on the throat and rear neck sides. The bill is black in young birds and reddish-orange in adults; the legs are bright red. Sexes are similar, but juveniles are a duller version of the adult.

 

The call of this kingfisher is then a short shrill seek. The breeding song is a chuckling li-cha-cha-chui-chui.


This species is common to reeds and aquatic vegetation near slow-moving water or ponds. It occurs throughout Sub-Saharan Africa except for the very arid parts of Somalia, Kenya, Namibia and Botswana.

The flight of the malachite kingfisher is rapid, with the short, rounded wings whirring until they appear a mere blur. It usually flies low over water.


The nest is a tunnel in a sandy bank, usually over water. Both birds excavate. Most burrows incline upward before the nesting chamber is reached. Three or four clutches of three to six round, white eggs are placed on a litter of fish bones and disgorged pellets.


The bird has regular perches or stands from which it fishes. These are usually low over the water. It sits upright, its tail pointed downwards. It drops suddenly with a splash and usually returns at once with a struggling captive. Large food items are beaten on a bough or rail; small fish and insects are promptly swallowed. A fish is usually lifted and carried by its middle, but its position is changed, sometimes by tossing it into the air, before it is swallowed head downwards. Fish, aquatic insects, and crustaceans are eaten.

 

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