As a family, the kingfishers must surely be the most striking birds found at Londolozi. Perhaps the Bee-Eaters may be a little upset by this, but I think the variety the kingfishers possess probably tips the scales in the end.

There are ten different species of kingfisher found in Southern Africa, nine of which are found at Londolozi. They can largely be classified into three main groups – the Halcyon genus, the three smallest (known as the Alcedinid kingfishers), and then the Pied and Giant Kingfishers which are the only two without any blue colouration.

The Halcyon genus contains five different species, four of which are found at Londolozi. The Woodland, Striped, Brown Hooded and Grey-headed are all seen here, with the only absentee being the Mangrove Kingfisher which, as the name suggests, is found in coastal habitats.

Like many of the natural world’s Latin names, the genus Halcyon is derived from Greek mythology. Halcyon was a bird which was said to nest at sea during the northern hemisphere winter. It was believed that it had the power to calm the sea in order to lay its eggs on a floating nest, creating two weeks of calm weather around the winter solstice. It is for this reason that halcyon has since been used as a term for calmness or peace. All these kingfishers share a similar turquoise blue colour on their wings, reminiscent of a calm blue sea, hence the Halcyon genus.

A Grey-Headed Kingfisher, an uncommon Intra-African migrant to Londolozi. You can clearly see the striking blue on its flight feathers indicative of the Halcyon genus.

A Grey-Headed Kingfisher, an uncommon Intra-African migrant to Londolozi. You can clearly see the striking blue on its flight feathers indicative of the Halcyon genus.

Despite their name, the majority of kingfishers do not in fact eat much fish at all. All of the Halcyon species mentioned above feed mainly on insects, rodents, reptiles and occasionally even other small birds, with only the Mangrove Kingfisher having a significant portion of its diet made up of fish.

Of all these species the most well known is probably the Woodland Kingfisher. An intra-African breeding migrant, the Woodland Kingfisher’s call is one of the most distinctive sounds of the Lowveld. Along with the first impala lamb of the summer, the first guide to see a woodland kingfisher for the season always calls it in on the radio with a sense of excitement, knowing that summer has now truly arrived. They are by some way the most abundant of the family and by January each year the call can be heard constantly whilst on drive.

A Woodland Kingfisher calls from a prominent perch. We usually see the first of these for the season in November each year.

A Woodland Kingfisher calls from a prominent perch. We usually see the first of these for the season in November each year.

Andrea-Campbell-Striped-Kingfisher

Similar in appearance to the Brown-hooded Kingfisher, the Striped Kingfisher is considerably smaller, spending most of its time around the Marula crests at Londolozi.

Measuring just 13cm, and for me the most beautiful of the lot, is the Pygmy Kingfisher. Whilst relatively common, it is easily overlooked due to its size and habitat, which is usually the thickets and woodlands along drainage lines. In addition, it also migrates within Africa so is only present from September to March each year. The best place to see it at Londolozi over the past year has actually been from the new Yoga deck at Founders Camp, although they are notoriously difficult to photograph.

African Pygmy Kingfisher by James Hobson

African Pygmy Kingfisher by James Hobson

Slightly bigger and a challenger for best looking is the Malachite Kingfisher. This is one of the four “true” kingfishers found at Londolozi in that their diet consists mainly of fish. They are most frequently seen around Camp Dam and the Sand River where they perch close to the water on reeds or sedges, scanning for fish close to the surface.

Kingfisher Hippo

The all black bill of this juvenile Malachite Kingfisher can result in it being misidentified as a Half-Collared Kingfisher. However, In almost 8 years at Londolozi I have only ever had one sighting of a Half-Collared Kingfisher. Photograph by James Tyrrell

Kingfisher

A Malachite Kingfishers exits the water after an attempt at catching a fish. Photograph by James Tyrrell

The largest of the group by some distance is the Giant Kingfisher. Measuring close to half a meter from end to end, it is often seen flying at high speed along the banks of the Sand River, the loud cackling call unmistakable. They hunt fish from an overhanging perch, plunging into the water with an enormous splash. They do occasionally hover in order to hunt, although this has mainly been observed over the sea where the lack of prominent perches means there is no other choice.

The giant kingfisher is in fact one of the only kingfisher species at Londolozi that actually eats fish; the majority of species here are insectivorous!

Its size and distinctive bill make the Giant Kingfisher easy to identify. Photograph by James Tyrrell

The bird most synonymous with the kingfisher family would have to be the Pied Kingfisher. A striking black and white bird and, other than when the Woodland is in residence, the most common found at Londolozi. They can frequently be observed hovering high above the water’s surface, scanning for prey, before tucking their wings in and diving beak first into the water – sometimes even able to catch two fish in a single dive.

A male Pied Kingfisher hovers over the water searching for a suitable target.

The ability to hover enables the Pied Kingfisher to hunt further from land than any other kingfisher – once recorded hunting over three kilometers from the nearest shore.

Success! After finding a perch, he will beat the fish against and then swallow it head first.

Success! After finding a perch against which he can beat the fish to immobilise it, it will be swallowed head first.

With summer rapidly approaching, it isn’t long before the kingfisher species count of Londolozi jumps from six to a full complement of nine as the migrants arrive.

Bets are already being placed on who will see the first woodland kingfisher this November.

My R50 is already in. Is yours?

Filed under Birds Wildlife

About the Author

David Dampier

Financial Manager

David left the bright lights of Johannesburg and a promising career as a chartered accountant to join the Londolozi Ranging team in 2009. After three years spent as a guide, during which he built up a formidable reputation as one of Londolozi's top ...

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5 Comments

on The Kingfishers of Londolozi

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

Jill Larone
Guest

Thanks David, for a very interesting write-up on the beautiful Kingfishers of Londolozi and for all the fantastic photos! I think the Woodland Kingfisher is one of my favourites and I love hearing it’s call. There are so many exceptional Rangers and Trackers at Londolozi that I wouldn’t know who to place my R50 on, so I will wait to hear who wins that one!!

Rich Laburn

Great selection of images David, really fascinating to see the range and diversity of Kingfishers at Londolozi

Wendy Hawkins
Guest

Thank you David! I also love Kingfishers, especially the Woodland & oh those beautiful colours of it! I also want to hear who wins the bet!! 🙂

Sue Prince
Guest

Stunning pics Doyle, you need to give me tips…

Trevor
Guest

Brilliant thank you!

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