Red-backed kingfisher (Todiramphus pyrrhopygius)

Also known as: golden kingfisher, red-rumped kingfisher
Synonyms: Halcyon pyrrhopygia, Todiramphus pyrrhopygia, Todirhamphus pyrrhopygia
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderCoraciiformes
FamilyAlcedinidae
GenusTodiramphus (1)
SizeLength: 22 cm (2) (3)
Male weight: 45 - 70 g (2)
Female weight: 41 - 62 g (2) (3)
Top facts

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

A relatively small Australian kingfisher, the red-backed kingfisher (Todiramphus pyrrhopygius) is named for its distinctive reddish-brown lower back and rump. It is also easily distinguished from other kingfisher species by the green and white streaks on its crown (2) (3).

The adult male red-backed kingfisher has a dark green upper back, sometimes with whitish edges to some of the feathers, giving a streaky appearance. The wings and tail are blue, while the cheeks, throat and underparts are white and there is a white collar around the neck. The red-backed kingfisher has a white forehead and a white line above the eye, contrasting with a black band that runs through the eye to the back of the neck (2) (3).

The female red-backed kingfisher is similar in appearance to the male, but is duller overall, with a streakier crown and a buffy tinge to the collar and flanks. Both sexes have a greyish-black beak that has a large yellowish area on the lower mandible. The red-backed kingfisher’s eyes are dark brown and its legs and feet are greyish to black. Juvenile red-backed kingfishers resemble the adult female, but have a reddish-buff hindneck and flanks, and narrow dark tips on the neck and breast feathers (2) (3).

A rather quiet and unobtrusive kingfisher species (3) (4), the red-backed kingfisher usually calls with a short, mournful whistle, described as ‘pee-eee’, which may be repeated monotonously every few seconds (2) (3) (4). When alarmed, this species gives a whistle or a harsh chattering call (2) (3).

The red-backed kingfisher is found throughout Australia, except for in the extreme southwest of the continent. It is also absent from Tasmania (2) (3) (5).

In the southern parts of its range, the red-backed kingfisher is largely migratory, breeding in the south in the summer months and then moving north in winter. However, some individuals remain in the south year-round. In other areas, this species may move towards the coast in the non-breeding season, and individuals often make local movements related to rainfall (2) (3).

The red-backed kingfisher typically inhabits dry woodlands and scrub in arid and semi-arid areas. For example, it may be found in open woodland, mallee, Acacia scrubland, tussock grassland or open farmland with scattered trees, and at the edges of open Melaleuca swamp-woodland (2) (3) (4). The red-backed kingfisher is often seen perched on power lines along roads, and will also enter suburbs (2).

The diet of the red-backed kingfisher includes a variety of insects, particularly locusts and grasshoppers, but also beetles, praying mantises, ants and caterpillars (2). This kingfisher also feeds on a range of other invertebrates, including spiders, centipedes, scorpions and crustaceans, and it will even take vertebrates such as fish, frogs and tadpoles, lizards, snakes and mice (2) (3). Some red-backed kingfishers have been seen attacking nesting fairy martins (Hirundo ariel) and taking their eggs and chicks (2).

The red-backed kingfisher usually hunts from an exposed perch, swooping down to snatch its prey from the ground before carrying it back to a perch to be consumed (2) (3) (4). It also sometimes takes prey from the trunks of trees (2) (4) or from branches or woody debris (4).

In arid parts of central Australia, the red-backed kingfisher breeds opportunistically in response to rainfall, but in other parts of the continent it typically nests between August and March, with the exact timing depending on the location (2) (3). During courtship, this species calls and displays it distinctive red rump, and the male may offer food to the female (2).

The red-backed kingfisher typically excavates its nest in the vertical bank of a river or creek, or in an earth cliff, sandy bank, termite nest, or in earth among the roots of a fallen tree (2) (3). It will also occasionally use natural tree hollows (2). Both members of the breeding pair help excavate the nesting burrow, which can measures up to 120 centimetres in length (2) (3), although it usually averages around 28 centimetres in length and 6 centimetres in diameter. The burrow ends in a small nest chamber (2).

The female red-backed kingfisher lays a clutch of two to six eggs, and both adults take turns at incubating the eggs for 20 to 23 days. The young kingfishers leave the nest at around 26 to 30 days old (2) and the adults often go on to produce a second brood (2) (3), which they may start while the first brood of chicks is still being fed (2). The nests of the red-backed kingfisher are vulnerable to a range of predators, as well as to flooding caused by heavy rain (2).

A common and widespread species, the red-backed kingfisher is not thought to be at risk of extinction (2) (5). Its population appears to have increased (5) as the birds have benefitted from the construction of roads in mallee woodland, which has knocked over trees and left mounds of soil at their roots, providing suitable nesting sites for this species (2).

There are no specific conservation measures currently known to be in place for the red-backed kingfisher.

Find out more about the red-backed kingfisher and its conservation:

Find out more about conservation in Australia:

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:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2013)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (2001) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 6: Mousebirds to Hornbills. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Fry, C.H., Fry, K. and Harris, A. (2010) Kingfishers, Bee-eaters and Rollers. A&C Black Publishers, London.
  4. Tzaros, C. (2005) Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Country. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
  5. BirdLife International - Red-backed kingfisher (March, 2013)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=1119