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THE WOODLAND KINGFISHER

Updated: 27 May 2014
(Published: 4 February 2014)

The woodland kingfisher Halcyon senegalensis was described scientifically for the first time in 1766 as Alcedo senegalensis by Linnaeus. The name senegalensis refers to Senegal in West Africa where the first specimen was collected. The adult woodland kingfisher is 22 to 24 cm long and weighs 60 to 65 g. The sexes are alike with the forehead, crown and the nape being brownish-grey but the feathers have pale blue tips. There is a black line through the eye and the lower jaw is black but the upper one is red. There also is a characteristic black wedge behind the dark brown eyes. The chin and throat are white to pale grey while the breast has a pale green-blue wash. The legs and feet are dark brown to black.

This type of kingfisher is widespread in Africa but it avoids arid regions and is absent from Somalia, much of Kenya and the western parts of southern Africa. The woodland kingfisher typically occurs in open bushveld with a heavily grazed understorey near water but it avoids closed bushveld. It migrates to north-eastern Africa from April to September. The woodland kingfisher forms strongly territorial pairs. It feeds on or near the ground or catches insects on the wing to eat them on a suitable perch. Large prey are held cross-wise in the bill and are beaten to a pulp against a perch before being swallowed. The diet mainly consists of insects, especially grasshoppers and locusts, but it also eats dragonflies, cicadas, termites, butterflies, moths, grubs, cockroaches, praying mantises, shrimps, the chicks of Queleas, crabs, frogs and small fishes. The bill is wiped clean against the perch after a meal.

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The flight path of the woodland kingfisher is usually low, direct and level. Before flying off it occasionally bobs its head rapidly. It bathes by flopping on to its belly in shallow water before preening the feathers on a perch with its wings half open. The trilling song is most often heard in mid-morning.

The woodland kingfisher is a solitary nester although adjacent nests can be as close as 40 m to each other. Breeding occurs in the rainy season in South Africa and the deserted nests of barbets, or natural and artificial holes 2 to 9.5 m above the ground, are used for nesting. Sometimes a nest is excavated in a tree trunk by repeatedly striking it with the bill. The entrance to the nest is 46 to 60 mm in diameter and the nest cavity is 150 to 400 mm deep. No lining is used and the same nest can be used for at least six years. Two to four almost spherical, smooth, white and glossy eggs are laid. Incubation lasts 13 to 14 days and both sexes brood in shifts by day but only the female does so at night. The chicks hatch naked with a pink skin and blue bulging eyes and the egg remains are discarded outside the nest. The bill, gape and, feet and long legs of the chicks are salmon pink at birth but the legs and feet soon become dusky. The chicks grow rapidly and the dark grey eyes open when they are around 10 days old. The chicks leave the nest after 15 to 24 days but accompany the adults for food for the first five weeks of life before becoming self-sustaining.


Reference:

Hockey, P A R, W R J Dean and P G Ryan (Eds) 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, seventh edition. Cape Town: Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, pp 178 - 179.

article by: Prof J du P Bothma

 

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