An immature in Kolkata, India.
The White-throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis) also known as the White-breasted Kingfisher or Smyrna Kingfisher, is a tree kingfisher which is widely distributed in Eurasia from Bulgaria, Turkey, east through South Asia to the Philippines. This kingfisher is a resident over much of its range, and may only move short distances.
The first English is the preferred name, since the geographical name is too restrictive for this widespread bird, while its easternmost race lacks a white breast.
Adult from Haryana, India
This is a large kingfisher, 28 cm in length. The adult has a bright blue back, wings and tail. Its head, shoulders, flanks and lower belly are chestnut, and the throat and breast are white. The large bill and legs are bright red. The flight of the White-throated Kingfisher is rapid and direct, the short rounded wings whirring. In flight, large white patches are visible on the blue and black wings. Sexes are similar, but juveniles are a duller version of the adult.
This species forms a superspecies with Halcyon cyanoventris and most major works recognize four geographic races.
- smyrnensis (Linnaeus, 1758) is found in Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and northwestern India
- fusca (Boddaert, 1783) is found in India, Sri Lanka, South China, Taiwan, Sumatra and West Java. Population from Burma to the Greater Sundas were treated under the name perpulchra but are now lumped into fusca. South China and Taiwanese populations have similarly been named as race fokiensis
- saturatior Hume, 1874 is found in the Andaman Islands.
- gularis (Kuhl, 1820) is found in the Philippines.
H. s. gularis of the Philippines has only the neck and throat white. Race fusca is found in Peninsular India and Sri Lanka and is slightly smaller, bluer and with a darker brown underside than the nominate race found in northwestern India. Race saturatior is found in the Andaman Islands and is larger with darker brown underparts. Race perpulchra (not always recognized) is found in northeastern India and is smaller than fusca with paler underparts. Albinism has been noted on occasion.
The call of this kingfisher is a chuckling chake-ake-ake-ake-ake. They are particularly noisy in the breeding season.
Local names include Baluchistan: Aspi chidok; Sindhi: Dalel; Hindi: Kilkila, Kourilla;Himachal Pradesh: Neela machhrala; Punjabi: Wadda machhera; Bengali: Sandabuk machhranga; Assamese: Masroka; Cachar: Dao natu gophu; Gujarati: Kalkaliyo, Safedchati kalkaliyo; Marathi: Khandya; Tamil: Vichuli; Telugu: Lakmuka, Buchegadu; Malayalam: Ponman; Kannada: Rajamatsi; Sinhalese: Pilihuduwa.
Habitat and distribution
Devouring a big fish near Hodal, Faridabad, Haryana, India.
White-throated Kingfisher is a common species of a variety of habitats, mostly open country in the plains (but has been seen at 7500 ft in the Himalayas) with trees, wires or other perches. The range of the species is expanding.
It perches conspicuously on wires or other exposed perches within its territory, and is a frequent sight in south Asia. This species mainly hunts large crustaceans, insects, earthworms, rodents, snakes, fish and frogs. Predation of small birds such as the Oriental White-eye has been reported. The young are fed mostly on invertebrates. It is reputed to eat tired migratory passerine birds like Chiffchaffs where the opportunity arises.
This kingfisher is widespread and populations are not threatened. Densities of 4.58 per sq. km. have been noted in the Sundarbans mangroves. They have few predators and only rare cases of predation are known such as by a Black Kite. A few parasites have been noted.
The White-throated Kingfisher begins breeding at the onset of the Monsoons. In its courtship display it spreads out the wings with bill raised high to show the white patterns. The nest is a tunnel (50 cms long, but a nest with a 3 foot tunnel has been noted) in an earth bank. Nest tunnels in a haystack have also been recorded. A single clutch of 4-7 round white eggs is typical.