Halcyon smyrnensiswhite-throated kingfisher

Geographic Range

White-throated kingfishers range from Turkey in the west to the Philippines in the east, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Syria, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. (Anderton and Rassmussen, 2005; "2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species", 2006)


White-throated kingfishers are common in agricultural areas, swamps, marshes, near ponds, lakes, in parklands and in mangrove swamps. In India they seem to be less reliant on particular aquatic habitats than other kingfishers and can be found in dry decidious forests in addition to rice paddies, oil palm plantations, drainage ditches, gardens, fishponds and even beaches. Though they feed on fish, white-throated kingfishers are not deep divers and do not spend significant amounts of time underwater. (Ali and Ripley, 1983; Anderton and Rassmussen, 2005)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 2300 m
    0.00 to 7545.93 ft

Physical Description

White-throated kingfishers have thick, reddish-orange bills, red legs, and dark chocolate-colored heads, bellies, and shoulders. A brilliant white patch can be found on the throat and sometimes the breast. The wings and tail are bright blue with white patches on the primaries and black distal tips. The sexes appear similar. Juvenile birds are generally less brilliantly-colored with duskier bills and less brown on the wings. Young individuals may also sport a shoulder mark with extensive blue edging. White-throated kingfishers are the only South Asian kingfisher that is distinctly darker below than it is above. Adult birds weigh 65.5 to 81 grams. Basal metabolic rate has not been recorded. (Ali and Ripley, 1983; Anderton and Rassmussen, 2005; Wells, 1999)

There are several recognized subspecies.

Halcyon smyrnensis smyrnensis, one of the two larger subspecies, ranges from the Gulf of Khambhat in India west to Saudi Arabia. This subspecies is bright blue-green above and has pale brown underparts.

Halcyon smyrnensis fusca is a resident in the whole of India and ranges upward into parts of Nepal and Sikkim. This subspecies also has a bright blue-green back, but its belly is more darkly chocolate-colored and it is smaller than H. smyrnensis smyrnensis.

Halcyon smyrnensis perpulchra is found in east Pakistan northern India, Bangladesh, Myannmar, Thailand, Malaysia, southeast China and Taiwan. This subspecies is on the smaller side and is more purplish-blue above than the previous two supspecies.

Halcyon smyrnensis saturatior is found on the Andaman Islands. This subspecies is also purplish-blue, but it is larger than H. smyrnensis perpulchra and it also bears a darker brown belly. (Ali and Ripley, 1983; Anderton and Rassmussen, 2005; Wells, 1999)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    65.5 to 81 g
    2.31 to 2.85 oz
  • Range length
    194 to 210 mm
    7.64 to 8.27 in
  • Range wingspan
    113 to 129 mm
    4.45 to 5.08 in


Halcyon smyrnensis breeds seasonally and in monogamous pairs. According to the literature the formation of pairs has not been properly studied, but it is clear that one male and one female form a cooperative relationship to raise the young. It is not clear if this relationship seasonal or life-long. (Ali and Ripley, 1983)

White-throated kingfishers breed yearly in pairs, but it is unclear if a mated pair will remain together for more than one season. Breeding occurs from January through August, with most activity during the period from April to July. Breeding begins earliest in India and Sri Lanka. Mating birds dig a 50 cm to 1 m deep burrow into a vertical embankment or wall. The tunnel usual slants upward and terminates in a wider nesting chamber. The floor of this chamber is not lined, but usually becomes scattered with feeding and waste detritus. Both parents share the incubation of their 3 to 7 eggs for an unspecified amount of time. Chicks are altricial and born blind. Once the chicks have hatched, both parents also participate in feeding and caring for the young. The fledging period is from 18 to 20 days.

Overall there is little data on reproductive behavior in this or other Asian Halcyon species. Time to hatching, time to independence, number of clutches each pair rears and age at sexual maturity are unclear for this species. (Ali and Ripley, 1983; Wells, 1999)

  • Breeding interval
    White-throated kingfishers breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding generally occurs from January to August, with some local variation.
  • Range eggs per season
    3 to 7
  • Range fledging age
    18 to 20 days

Both parents participate in nest-building, clutch incubation, and the feeding and general rearing of the offspring. (Ali and Ripley, 1983)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female


White-throated kingfisher average lifespan in or out of captivity is not recorded. Few white-throated kingfishers have been banded, but the longest interval between intitial banding and recapture is 5 years and six months. (Wells, 1999)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    5.5 years


White-throated kingfishers live solitarily or in pairs during the breeding season. Each bird or pair of birds will establish a feeding territory and, for the most part, remain within that territory. There may be some seasonal movements, but there is a lack of clear data on the subject other than the fact that some Mediterranean populations winter on the isle of Cyprus. Each bird or pair usually stays very near to its permanent territory, however some portion of the population must wander as the birds have reached remote islands in the Indian Ocean and have been found on offshore oil rigs. (Ali and Ripley, 1983; "BirdGuides.Com", 1999; "2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species", 2006; Wells, 1999)

Home Range

White-throated kingfishers live alone or in pairs. In zones of greatest density birds may be separated by only 100 meters. (Ali and Ripley, 1983; Wells, 1999)

Communication and Perception

White-throated Kingfishers are very vocal birds, their vocalizations being characterized as "a loud defiant rattling laugh." Breeding males are the most noted for their calls.. They have several calls which include a sharp repetition of high pitched KRICH-KRICH tones of 2-4 kHz at a rate of 2-4 notes per second. The particular song of the White-throated Kingfisher is a very loud descening trill (2-3 kHz), composed of speparate notes (10-11 per second), which trail off in pitch and volume.

During the mating season male White-throated Kingfishers accompany their nearling constant singing with a repeated brief display of the their white wing patches to intimidate potential rivals. While perched atop a tree, fencepost, or other visible station, the male will let out his distinctive call, then flap his wings swiftly several times parallel to the horizon.

The female White-throated Kingfisher also employs her wings for signalling during the breeding months. To signal that she is receptive, the female kingfisher approaches the male, partially opens her wings and performs a shivering motion while letting out a repetitive clicking call. (Ali and Ripley, 1983; Anderton and Rassmussen, 2005)

Food Habits

White-throated kingfishers are carnivorous generalists that eat many organisms, including locusts, crickets, beetles, mantises, ants, termites, dragonflies, grasshoppers, Ocypode and Paratelphusa crabs , scorpions, centipedes, Mabuya and Calotes lizards, mice, frogs, small perching birds, and fish. Individuals hunt by flying forth from an observation post over clear ground or water to seize prey. Prey is often seized off the ground and then flown to the perch, where it is bludgeoned or stabbed before being swallowed. (Ali and Ripley, 1983)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • fish
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • aquatic crustaceans


Specific predators of white-throated kingfishers have not been reported. It seems reasonable to assume that white-throated kingfishers are subject to predation by large birds of prey, and probably snakes and rodents while they are nesting.

Ecosystem Roles

White-throated kingfishers are medium-sized generalist predators that feed on a wide variety of small creatures and help to keep various populations in check. The literature does not list specific parasites of Halcyon smyrnensis, or other organisms that have special mutualistic relationships with this species. It seems possible that white-throated kingfishers are subject to parasitism by protists of the genus Plasmodium and it is almost certain that Haemoproteus halcyonis (a blood parasite of other Halcyon species) uses white-throated kingfishers as hosts. (Ali and Ripley, 1983)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • Haemoproteus halcyonis

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

White-throated kingfishers eat domestic and agricultural pests, including both mammalian and insect pests. Like many other generalists, these birds help control the populations of small vertebrates and invertebrates that might otherwise do costly damage to human works and food supplies. (Ali and Ripley, 1983)

  • Positive Impacts
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

White-throated kingfishers can often be found around fish drying racks and may become a nuisance at ornamental fish ponds and commercial hatcheries. Though they also contribute to controlling agricultural pests, they can be considered aquaculture pests. (Ali and Ripley, 1983)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

White-throated kingfishers are listed as a species of least concern on the IUCN Red List. Their large range and abundance in common habitats suggests they are not at current conservation risk. ("2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species", 2006)


Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

John McCallen (author), Stanford University, Terry Root (editor, instructor), Stanford University.



living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


a wetland area rich in accumulated plant material and with acidic soils surrounding a body of open water. Bogs have a flora dominated by sedges, heaths, and sphagnum.

brackish water

areas with salty water, usually in coastal marshes and estuaries.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


an area where a freshwater river meets the ocean and tidal influences result in fluctuations in salinity.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


mainly lives in water that is not salty.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


an animal that mainly eats fish


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

saltwater or marine

mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


uses sight to communicate


International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. 2006. "2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). Accessed May 13, 2007 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/search/details.php/47716/all.

BirdGuides. 1999. "BirdGuides.Com" (On-line). Accessed May 13, 2007 at http://www.birdguides.com/html/vidlib/species/Halcyon_smyrnensis.htm#.

Ali, S., S. Ripley. 1983. Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan Vol. 4. New York: Oxford University Press.

Anderton, J., P. Rassmussen. 2005. Birds of South Asia. The Ripley Guide. Vols. 1 and 2. Barcelona: Smithsonian Institution and Lynx Edicions.

Wells, D. 1999. The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula Vol. I. Bath: Academic Press.