All You Need to Know on Kingfishers

© Nigel Dennis
Brownhooded kingfisher (Halcyon albiventris), Kruger National Park, South Africa.

Not All Kingfishers Fish!

Kingfishers are conspicuous birds in the Lowveld thanks to their bright colours and noisy, active habits. There are ten species that occur in southern Africa of which nine occur in the Lowveld (seven commonly so). They vary in size from the minute 12 cm pygmy kingfisher to the 45 cm large Giant kingfisher.

Kingfishers enjoy well-wooded areas in the vicinity of water but not all kingfishers fish! The Malachite, Giant, and Pied kingfishers are piscivores (fish-eaters) while the Striped, Woodlands, Brown-hooded and Pygmy kingfishers eat invertebrates including insects, lizards, frogs and even snakes, scorpions, rodents and the occasional bat. Insects are often more numerous in the vicinity of water and proximity to water is advantageous for hygiene purposes too.

By Megan Emmet

African Pygmy Kingfisher

The African pygmy kingfisher is an intra-African migrant and can be found in South Africa between September and March, the adults and juveniles migrate north in March....more

Giant Kingfisher

The giant kingfisher is the biggest of the kingfishers, with an average length of 44 cm, and dimorphic in colouration....more

Grey Headed Kingfisher

This grey-headed kingfisher will remain motionless on a perch for extended periods waiting for any sign of movement, then bobs its head before diving onto its prey....more


Kingfishers are some of the most brilliantly coloured birds in South Africa. Many of them have strident voices and dramatic courtship displays....more

Kingfisher Adaptations

Whether kingfishers are piscivorous or insectivorous influences whether they migrate or not....more

Kingfisher Mating and Nesting

Most species of kingfisher are strictly monogamous (one male and one female pair up). The males defend territories and establish a pair bond with the female through visual displays and courtship feeding....more

Malachite Kingfisher

The malachite has a short crest on its head and there are white patches on the throat and the back of the neck. Legs are red....more

Pied Kingfisher

The pied kingfisher is gregarious and uses co-operative breeders, with the helpers usually being male offspring....more

Woodland Kingfisher

The woodland kingfisher has a dark strip through the eye, where it does not extend through the eye with the mangrove kingfisher....more