Sacred kingfisher
Todiramphus sanctus

The sacred kingfisher (Todiramphus sanctus ) is a medium-sized woodland kingfisher that occurs in mangroves, woodlands, forests and river valleys in Australia, New Zealand and other parts of the western Pacific.

Animal name origin

The name "sacred kingfisher" can be traced back to Latham's 1782 description of the species and what he called the "Respected Kingsfisher" of the Friendly Isles (now Tonga), and the "Venerated Kingsfisher" of the Society Islands (both collared kingfishers). Latham claims, citing Parkinson's journals, that all three kingfishers were held in "superstitious veneration" by the natives on account of frequently inhabiting marae and burial grounds, and were not allowed to be taken or killed. Later sources claim Polynesians venerated it for having the power of control over the waves.

In Culture

The sacred kingfisher is known in New Zealand English as kōtare, from the Māori name rendered as Ghotarré by Latham.


The sacred kingfisher is mostly blue-green to turquoise above with white underparts and collar feathers, a black mask and buff lores. Both sexes are similar, but females are usually greener, duller and less buff beneath, and juveniles have buff or mottled brown edges on the collar, underparts and upper-wing coverts. Adults are 20–23 cm (7.9–9.1 in) long. Males weigh 28–61 g (1.0–2.2 oz) and females 28–56 g (1.0–2.0 oz).



Sacred kingfishers are found in Australia, New Zealand, Lord Howe Island, Norfolk Island, New Guinea, eastern Indonesia, much of northern and western Melanesia, and the Kermadec Islands. This species breeds throughout much of Australia (except the dry interior), New Zealand, New Caledonia and locally, New Guinea. Populations in the southern two-thirds of Australia migrate northwards at the end of the breeding season to New Guinea, east to the eastern Solomon Islands and west to Indonesia becoming uncommon to very sparse westwards to Sumatra. Birds move south again to Australia in August and September. It has also occurred as a vagrant on Christmas Island (in the Indian Ocean), Malaysia, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and Nauru. A pair were spotted in Pampanga, Philippines in April / May 2016.

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In Australia, it inhabits open eucalypt forests, melaleuca swamps, mangroves, mudflats, wetlands and river or lake margins, farmland, parks and gardens. In New Zealand, T. sanctus vagans shows altitudinal migration, with post-breeding movement from higher altitudes to the coast and also from forest to coast and open lands.

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Habits and Lifestyle

Seasonal behavior
Bird's call

Diet and Nutrition

The sacred kingfisher feeds on a wide variety of invertebrates (particularly insects bugs and spiders), small crustaceans, fish (infrequently), frogs, small rodents and reptiles, and there are a few reports of them eating finches and other small birds. Usually, the sacred kingfisher will sit on a low branch and wait for prey to pass by. It swoops down to grab the prey by briefly landing (sally-pounce) or hovering (sally-strike), and then returns to its perch to eat its catch by beating and swallowing.

Mating Habits

The breeding season is from August to March (mostly September to January), often with two broods. Once a pair of birds has mated, both members of the pair dig the nest; a burrow in a river bank, a hollow in a large branch or a termite mound are prime examples of nest location. The female lays a clutch of 3 to 6 glossy white, rounded eggs, measuring 25 mm × 22 mm (0.98 in × 0.87 in), which are incubated for 17–18 days by both parents (mainly female). Both parents (and possibly helpers) feed the nestlings for up to 4 weeks, and for a further 7–10 days after fledging.



The sacred kingfisher has a wide distribution and the population trend is increasing, and it is classed as least concern on the IUCN Red List.


1. Sacred kingfisher Wikipedia article -
2. Sacred kingfisher on The IUCN Red List site -
3. Xeno-canto bird call -

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