Kingfishers are brilliantly colored, and many of them have strident voices and also dramatic courtship displays. Malachite kingfishers are included in the group of “river kingfishers” within the Alcedinidae family. This small kingfisher is commonly seen near slow-moving rivers and ponds, often perched on aquatic vegetation or reeds. Its fishing and breeding behavior is typical of this family. Malachite kingfishers are common across most parts of sub-Saharan Africa, with the population appearing stable and not threatened.
This species inhabits sub-Saharan Africa, in Senegal, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and South Africa. It may also live in Yemen. It is common in wet regions with fresh water, including lakes and dams, near slow-moving rivers and streams, swamps, marshes, mangrove forests and estuaries, and man-made habitats like canals, reservoirs, drainage ditches, and irrigated fields. In the breeding season, these birds are seen often in small watercourses where they can find banks that are suitable for nesting.
Habits and lifestyle
Malachite kingfishers are typically seen near water, perched on reeds or branches over slow-moving water. After detecting its prey, it flies down to the water and catches it. It then returns to the perch and often beats the prey before it is swallowed, head first if it is a fish. While waiting for prey, the bird often bobs its head, raises and lowers its crest and flicks its tail. Perches are located 20-50 cm above the water, generally in areas of scattered vegetation with high fish density. This kingfisher is a diurnal bird and is usually solitary, apart from in the breeding season. Being a strongly territorial species, interactions between the owners and intruders may happen, involving threat displays, bill-grappling, flying attacks, and aerial chases. These birds are largely resident, seasonal movements being related to water levels. Juveniles disperse more widely than the adults. Their flight is rapid, and over water they usually fly low.
Diet and nutrition
The Malachite kingfishers are carnivores (piscivores), they mainly feed on fish, crabs, prawns, aquatic insects, insect larvae and frogs.
Malachite kingfishers are monogamous and make long-lasting bonds. The breeding season varies according to the range, but is closely related when there is high fish density. When the breeding season begins, the male engages in aerial displays while making calls, and aerial chases may occur. When the nest is nearly finished, courtship feeding by the male to the female occurs. Both adults dig out the nesting burrow, usually in an earthen bank of a stream or river. An earth mound, soil in the roots of a fallen tree or a road cutting may also be used. They often will dig 2-3 burrows, though only one is completed. Laying of the eggs takes place when there is a low water level. 3-6 eggs are laid, one day apart. Both parents share the 14-16 day incubation. Chicks receive food from both their parents, but are brooded mostly by the female. Their eyes open at 10-12 days old, and they leave the nest at 22-25 days. Chicks can fish within a week after fledging and when they are 36-40 days old the adults chase them off.
varies regionally, but usually during periods of high fish density
There are no major threats to the Malachite kingfisher at present.
According to IUCN, Malachite kingfisher is often common and widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) and its numbers today remain stable.
Fun facts for kids
- Kingfishers have direct and fast flying, but can also hover above the water while foraging.
- Kingfishers do not sing, instead they make a dry, loud screeching noise. They make a high-pitched “peep-peep”, or “seet” or “kweek” while flying. Mates perform a duet, a series of calls ending with a chuckle, which sounds like “ii-tiii-cha-cha, chui chui tuiichi chui”.
- The kingfisher is the biggest bird that is able to hover in the air.
- All kingfishers have excellent sight and are able to see into the water – and can even adjust for refraction, which sometimes makes a fish look nearer to the surface than it is.
- Australia’s Laughing kookaburra is the most famous kingfisher, the call of which sounds like laughter.
- Kingfishers like to keep themselves clean and they bathe by diving into the water and perching in the sun where they preen their feathers and dry off. They may use their wings to scratch and scrub the top part of their head. They clean their impressive bill by scraping it repeatedly against a branch.