Giant Kingfisher
Giant Kingfisher by Lorenzo Barelli

Kingfishers - Alcedinidae in East Africa

Kingfishers are in the order – Coraciiformes together with Bee-eaters, Rollers, Motmots and Todis. The 2 last are not in Africa. Most are colourful birds. Another characteristic are syndactyly feet which means that toe 3 and 4 are fused together. This enlarges the sole surface and may reinforce adherence with the substrate. Feet in birds and mammals are adapted to their lifestyle.

In the suborder – Alcedines are Alcedinidae – Kingfishers, the Todies and Motmots are not in Africa

Family Alcedinidae – Kingfishers 

are small to medium seized birds, some with iridescent colours, some black and white. The beak is long, dagger like and sharp pointed, some have red beaks, some dar, the tail stubby and the head big in all kingfishers. They are cosmopolitan and found in Africa, Eurasia, Asia, India, America and Oceania.

Their diet varies. Some are strictly fish eaters and are found at water bodies, some eat fish but also take insects near water. Others hunt for insects and small reptiles away from water, some even in dry areas.

Many species perch on branches and shoot down to catch their prey. Very good in hoovering is the Pied Kingfisher.

The nest is in a tunnel dug in earth or in termite or sand mounds. Most species are monogamous and sex dimorphism is minimal.

Some species are widespread in Africa. Some are specialized and only found in their preferred habitat.

There are 3 Kingfisher subfamilies in Africa

Cerylinae –  Giant Kingfisher and Pied Kingfisher
Alcedininae – Alcedo species
Halcyoninae – Halcyon species

They belong to those species loved by bird photographers but also those who don’t search for birds can not overlook them.

To give you as actual information as possible we use Avibase, the books “Birds of Africa South of the Sahara”, “Birds of East Africa”, “Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania”. Then we put the most characteristic information to the photo.

You can also follow us on Facebook “Bird photography Safaris Kenya” and see the numerous species as well as the beautiful photos from Lorenzo Barelli.

Click on the photo for larger view. The names of the photographers are on the photo and in the text. Without the generosity of several amazing bird photographers it had not been possible to create the pages with so many illustrated bird species. Those photos without name are from Elvira Wolfer.

Here you find samples of our birding safaris. Since most of the species here have a wide distribution range you can find many of them during most of our tours. To find a particular subspecies we will advise on the most suitable itinerary.

Giant Kingfisher (Megaceryle m. maxima) is the largest in Africa. The nominate form is widespread at fresh water mainly between 1.500 and 2.700 m. The subspecies gigantea occurs in Western Tanzania. Male left, female right

Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle r. rudis) occurs South of the Sahara at fresh water bodies from sea level to 2.300 m. They hover and catch the fish by shooting down. But they also perch. You can find singles, pairs or even groups. The male has a double band. Hovering by Lorenzo Barelli

Malachite Kingfisher (Corythornis cristata cyanostigma) is the subspecies found in East Africa. They live near water from sea level to 3.000 m where they catch small fish, insects and their larvae. Photo Lorenzo Barelli

White-bellied Kingfisher (Corythornis leucogaster leopoldi). This subspecies is found in Southern Uganda, E DRC and NW Zambia. They are uncommon in dense forest and around forest pools from 700 to 1.200 m. Photo Per Holmen

African Pygmy Kingfisher (Ispidina p. picta) is the common subspecies in East Africa. The subspecies ferrugina is far in West Uganda. The 3rd subspecies natalensis breeds in Southern and Central Tanzania from September to April before moving North into forests in Central Kenya and Uganda. They live away from water even in dry areas and feed on insects.

African Dwarf Kingfisher (Ispidina l. lecontei) is the smallest Kingfisher in Africa. It is a SW Ugandan to Westafrican species. In SW Uganda you find the nominate form. Photo Per Holmen, Royal Mile

Shining-blue Kingfisher (Alcedo quadribrachys guentheri) is also a more West African species. This subspecies is found at rivers in forestes from 700 – 1.200 m. It is is a very shy and rather rare bird! Photo Per Holmen, Bigodi Swamp

Half-collared Kingfisher (Alcedo semitorquata tephria) is the species found in various habitats in NE, coastal, SW Tanzania. It is an uncommon bird and moves locally. Photo Per Holmen, East Usambara

Blue-breasted Kingfisher (Alcedo m. malimbica) is rather a West African species. The nominate form is reasonably common in in forest and dense riverine woodland from 700 -1.800 m in Uganda and NW Tanzania. Photo Per Holmen, Minziro Forest

Grey-headed Kingfisher (Halcyon l. leucocephala) is the most often met subspecies. They live near or away from water and feed on water creatures, insect and small reptiles. Along the coast hyacinthina is found along the coast. The race palliventris is can be found from Rwanda to Southern Tanzania from April to September. Semicaerulea visits from Southwestern Arabia from August to March.

Woodland Kingfisher (Halcyon s. senegalensis) is widespread in woodland and savanna. It is a common resident and IA migrant. The nominate form is found from Ethiopia to Northern Tanzania. The Southern race cyanoleuca breeds in S Tanzania and migrates.

Mangrove Kingfisher (Halcyon senegaloides) lives as the name expresses in mangroves along the Indian Ocean from Somalia to South Africa. They feed on fish and crabs. Manda Island

Brown-hooded Kingfisher (Halcyon albiventris) prentissgrayi left (Arusha) is found in DRC, SE Kenya, Angola and Zambia. Orientalis right (East Usambara) occurs from coastal Somalia to Botswana. They are often away from water and live from sea level to 1.800 m. Photos Per Holmen

Chocolate-backed Kingfisher (Halcyon b. badia) is found in East Africa only in Western Uganda. They live in forests and gallery forests. Photo Per Holmen, Semliki National Park

Striped Kingfisher (Halcyon c. chelicuti) is widespread from S Mauretania and Senegambia to Ethiopia and South Africa. Forest edges, woodland and savanna from sea level up to 2.300 m is where you can find them.