The pied kingfisher has, as its name suggests, black and white plumage. The male has a black crest and crown, a white stripe above its eye, a larger black stripe across the eye as far as its neck, and a white throat and collar. Its upper parts are black, edged in white, giving a mottled effect and its rump has black and white streaks. The wing coverts have white spots. The underparts are white, with two lines of fine black bars, the upper being wider and usually broken in the middle. The bill is black and long and looks like a dagger. The eyes are dark brown and the feet and legs are blackish. The female has just one breast band, which is narrower than that of the male. The tail is white and somewhat long, its median tail feathers and tips being black, and it fans out in flight.
Pied kingfishers live in the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, the Asian mainland and southern China. In sub-Saharan Africa they are common along the Nile, and in east Egypt, and in Pakistan they are frequently found across the Sind plains and Punjab. They are rare in Greece, Cyprus, and Poland. These birds live beside streams, lakes, estuaries, rivers, irrigation ditches, canals, floodlands, bays and reedy inlets. They also live in river valleys near mountainous areas. They are usually not found in mangroves and large swamps.
Pied kingfishers are diurnal, often perching during the day beside streams in order to conserve energy. They will also perch on manmade structures such as fences, huts and canoes. At certain times of the year pied kingfishers form communal roosts. They are the biggest birds which can hover for a long period. Their characteristic behavior includes regular bobbing of their head or tail. They bathe by diving into water repeatedly, fly in a straight line, and hardly ever hunt on land. As they fly, they emit noisy chirps, and they also make these sounds during nesting to mark territory. Individuals live either in pairs or in loosely tied families. These birds do not migrate.
Pied kingfishers are sexually mature when they are one year old. Courtship involves displays of dancing, which are carried out by 3 to 12 males together. Males also offer food to females over a period that lasts about three weeks. Pairs are monogamous, and male and female both help to dig a nest hole in the soft earth of a bank, above water, or sometimes in a grassy ground. A burrow will be dug to a depth of about one meter. The breeding season extends from February to April. 4 to 5 white shiny eggs are laid and are incubated by both adults for about 18 days. While the nest is being dug and during laying and the incubation period, the male bird displays and brings food for the female, then helps to raise the chicks before they fledge. The fledglings stay in the nest for about three weeks.
In Nigeria, these kingfishers are tamed as pets, becoming tame after one week. After that, they are free to follow children about, whereupon some go back to the wild. Some birds may be eaten in this area as well. They may benefit from fish farming and human dams but they are at risk of being poisoned by bioaccumulation of toxins in the fish they eat.
According to All About Birds resource, the total breeding population of the Pied kingfisher at 1.7 million individuals. Overall, currently this species is classifed as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List.
Pied kingfishers are major fish predators. There is evidence for a relationship with clawless otters that is mutualistic.