Blyth's kingfisher (Alcedo hercules)
|Also known as:||great blue kingfisher|
|Size||Length: 22 cm (2) (3)|
- Blyth’s kingfisher is the largest kingfisher species in its genus.
- Blyth’s kingfisher is quite widespread across Southeast Asia, although it generally occurs at low densities.
- The male Blyth’s kingfisher has an all-black beak, while the female has red at the base of the lower beak.
- Blyth’s kingfisher inhabits forested areas around streams and rivers, into which it dives to catch fish.
Blyth’s kingfisher is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).
Blyth’s kingfisher (Alcedo hercules), also known as the great blue kingfisher (2), is the largest of the Alcedo species (3). It is noticeably larger than the common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis), which has very similar plumage (4).
The upperparts and tail feathers of Blyth’s kingfisher are a deep greenish blue, with flashes of purple at the rump and around the top of the tail. A bright blue line runs down the centre of the back, and the wings have light blue speckling (3) (5). The feathers of the head are dull black, but with curved tips of brilliant blue and with a large whitish patch on the side of the neck. The chin and throat of Blyth’s kingfisher are a bright yellow-white, leading down to a breast of rich reddish-brown with areas of blackish-blue on either side (3).
Blyth’s kingfisher has short red legs (3) with four toes on each foot, three facing forwards and one facing backwards (2). This species’ beak is long, black, and flattened from side to side (2). The male and female Blyth’s kingfisher are distinguished by the colour of the beak. In males, the beak is entirely black, but in females there is a reddish hue at the base of the lower mandible (3).
Juvenile Blyth’s kingfishers have not yet been described. However, in other Alcedo species juveniles display similar plumage to the adults, but are noticeably duller (2).
Blyth’s kingfisher has a very similar vocalisation to that of the common kingfisher, but it is louder and less shrill (2) (3). It sounds like ‘pseet’ and is given when the bird is in flight (2).
Blyth’s kingfisher has a widespread range that spans much of Southeast Asia, but is generally found at low densities (6). This species has been recorded in India (7) and Nepal (2), all the way east to mainland China and south to Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Vietnam, where it is locally fairly common (6) (8).
Blyth’s kingfisher inhabits forested areas around shallow, stony or rocky streams, rivers, valleys and ravines (3) (9) (10). It is found at low elevations, mostly between around 400 and 1,000 metres (3) (8). This species has been noted to favour streams that are quite narrow, at around 2 to 20 metres wide, as well as fast flowing and surrounded by tall vegetation (9) (10).
Blyth’s kingfisher feeds mainly on fish, but insect remains have also been found in its nest burrows. When hunting, this species will perch on a low branch or stem by a stream, dive into the water and then return to the same perch with its catch. These perches are sometimes used repeatedly over time (2).
In northeast India, Blyth’s kingfisher has been recorded laying its eggs, usually a clutch of four to six, between March and June. It first builds a nest in the bank of a stream, tunnelling up and then down to end in a nest chamber around 20 centimetres wide. In hard earth banks, the tunnel is up to 60 centimetres long, but it may be up to 200 centimetres long if the soil is sandy or loose (2) (3). The mated pair of Blyth’s kingfishers will take turn incubating the eggs, keeping them warm, and the nest quickly becomes soiled with faeces and rotting food (2).
Pairs of Blyth’s kingfishers have been observed performing courtship chases in February to April in Lao People’s Democratic Republic (9). However, very little else is known about the social behaviour of this shy bird (2).
Blyth’s kingfisher is under threat from deforestation (2), which is reducing and breaking up its habitat (6) (8). This species is also affected by heavy erosion of the bank sides in which it nests (10). In the Che Ba Ling National Nature Reserve in China, a hydroelectric scheme, the diversion of three kilometres of river and the building of a new road have meant that up to 40 percent of the river will become uninhabitable for Blyth’s kingfisher (2).
Water pollution is problematic for Blyth’s kingfisher as this species is highly dependent on the streams it lives by. Human disturbance is also threatening this timid bird (2). The exact population of Blyth’s kingfisher is unknown, but in 2009 there were estimated to be fewer than 100 breeding pairs left in China. The overall population of this large kingfisher is suspected to be undergoing a steady decline (8).
There are currently no conservation actions specifically in place for Blyth’s kingfisher (8). However, populations of this species have been recorded in a number of protected areas, including Nakay-Nam Theun National Biodiversity Conservation Area (9) and Xe Sap National Protected Area in Lao PDR (8), and Mengyang Nature Reserve in South Yunnan, China (2).
More information is required on the status and life cycle of Blyth’s kingfisher (2) to determine its population size and any specific threats (8). Recommended conservation actions for this colourful bird include protecting suitable habitats and working to reduce water pollution in these areas (8).
Find out more about Blyth’s kingfisher and its conservation:
BirdLife International - Blyth’s kingfisher:
The Internet Bird Collection - Blyth’s kingfisher:
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- Incubate: to keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
- Mandible: in birds, the lower jaw and beak, but the term is also used to denote the two parts of the beak.
IUCN Red List (July, 2013)
- del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (2001) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 6: Mousebirds to Hornbills. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
- Fry, C.H., Fry, K. and Harris, A. (1992) Kingfishers, Bee-Eaters and Rollers. Christopher Helm Publishers, London.
- De Schauensee, R.M. (1984) The Birds of China. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.
- King, B., Woodcock, M. and Dickinson, E.C. (1975) A Field Guide to the Birds of South-East Asia. Collins, London.
- BirdLife International (2001) Threatened Birds of Asia: The BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.
- Grewal, B., Harvey, B. and Pfister, O. (2002) A Photographic Guide to the Birds of India and the Indian Subcontinent, including Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and The Maldives. Princeton University Press, New Jersey.
BirdLife International - Blyth’s kingfisher (November, 2012)
- Thewlis, R.M., Timmins, R.J., Evans, T.D. and Duckworth, J.W. (1998) The conservation status of birds in Laos: a review of key species. Bird Conservation International, 8(Supplement S1): 1-159.
- Timmins, R.J. and Cuong, T.V. (2001) An Assessment of the Conservation Importance of the Huong Son (Annamite) Forest, Ha Tinh Province, Vietnam, Based on the Results of a Field Survey for Large Mammals and Birds. Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History, New York.