Pied kingfisher (Ceryle rudis)

Also known as: lesser pied kingfisher, small pied kingfisher
French: Martin-pêcheur pie
GenusCeryle (1)
SizeLength: 25 cm (2)
Male weight: 68 - 100 g (2)
Female weight: 71 - 110 g (2)

The pied kingfisher is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Not only is the pied kingfisher (Ceryle rudis) the largest bird capable of a true hover in still air, it is also the only kingfisher with all black and white plumage (2) (3). This distinctive bird 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 (2) (4). There is a prominent white eyebrow and a black eyeband that stretches to the back of the neck (4), as well as a 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 (2) (4). The male pied kingfisher is distinguished from the female by the presence of two full breast bands, with the female having just a single incomplete band (3). 

A large-headed, stout-bodied and short-legged bird with a straight, strong, dagger-like, black bill (5) (6), the pied kingfisher is extremely agile in the air and hovers far more often than other kingfishers (7). In flight, it holds the body almost vertical, with the head and bill angled sharply downwards, and beats the wings extremely rapidly (7). When perched, it frequently cocks its tail up and down and raises a crest of feathers on its head (6). The pied kingfisher frequently calls when in flight and when perched, emitting a high-pitched, chattering ‘chick-chick’ and a rattling twitter (6) (8), with the courtship call being a soft, warbled chirp (2).

A widespread species, the pied kingfisher is found across much of sub-Saharan Africa, excluding only the most arid regions, to north Egypt, central and southern Turkey, Israel, Syria, Iraq, and Southwest Iran, as well as much of south and Southeast Asia, ranging from Northeast Afghanistan to Indochina (2).

The pied kingfisher occupies a variety of fresh and saltwater habitats, including large, inland, slow-moving rivers, estuaries, mangroves, tidal rock pools, lagoons, dams and reservoirs, requiring some water-side perches such as trees, reeds, fences and other man-made objects. It occurs up to altitudes of around 2,500 metres in Africa and 1,800 metres in Asia (2) (6) (8). 

A proficient predator of fish, the pied kingfisher forages from a perch or while hovering, flying low over the water before rising up to ten metres, holding a brief hover, and then plunging into the water and seizing its target in its bill (2) (9). Because of the pied kingfisher’s unrivalled ability to hover, it does not always require extensive woodland around its habitat for perching and can fly as far out as three kilometres from the shoreline while foraging (2) (3). After it has captured its prey, the pied kingfisher may swallow smaller fish in flight, or carry larger fish cross-wise in the bill back to its perch, before beating its prey to death and swallowing it whole (2) (9). The pied kingfisher may also eat insects, frogs, tadpoles and molluscs (2). 

The pied kingfisher nests in holes in vertical sandbanks that are excavated by the breeding pair (6). The tunnel is around 1.2 metres in length and leads to a 20 to 30 centimetre wide chamber in which the nest is constructed (9). The tunnel takes around 26 days to excavate by stabbing with the open bill and kicking the sand out with the feet (2). Between one to seven, usually four or five, eggs are laid and incubated mainly by the female for around 18 days. The pied kingfisher is a cooperative breeder, meaning that the breeding adults are assisted by helpers in caring for the young. The helpers are usually one year old offspring of the breeding pair, but may also be other adults that have failed in breeding, and assist with tending the chicks and defending a territory around the nest. The chicks stay in the nest for 24 to 29 days, learning to hunt by 38 to 43 days of age, and becoming fully independent at 1 to 2 months (9). The pied kingfisher reaches sexual maturity at a year old but may not breed until its second or third year (2). 

One of the most common kingfishers in the world, the pied kingfisher is a widespread species not currently at risk of extinction. At some locations it has benefited from fish stocking and fish farming, and also from the construction of dams. In parts of southern Africa, however, the pied kingfisher has suffered declines due to poisoning from endosulfan, which is used to kill tsetse flies. A widespread crash in the population in Zimbabwe has also been attributed to the use of pesticides in sugar growing areas (2) (9).

The pied kingfisher has not been the target of any known conservation measures.

For more information on the pied kingfisher and other bird species, see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2010)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliot, A. and Sargatal, J. (2001) Handbook of Birds of the World. Volume 6: Mousebirds to Hornbills. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Kenya Birds – Pied kingfisher (December, 2010)
  4. Mackinnon, J. and Phillipps, K. (2000) A Field Guide to the Birds of China. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Perrins, C. (2009) The Encyclopedia of Birds. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  6. Davidson, I. and Sinclair, I. (2006) Southern African Birds: A Photographic Guide. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, South Africa.
  7. BBC Wildlife Finder – Pied kingfisher (December, 2010)
  8. Sinclair, I. (1994) Ian Sinclair's Field Guide to the Birds of Southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  9. Biodiversity Explorer – Pied kingfisher (December, 2010)