Kingfishers Alcedinidae


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"River" Kingfishers - these are small birds with brightly colored plumages, usually blue or orange upperparts then white under parts sometimes buff. Short tail and large head with a long pointed bill. The color of bills reflects the birds choice of food. The insectivorous Kingfishers has red colored bills while those that feed on fishes has black bills.

When their diet are fishes, the bird would leave their perch and dive into the water. Sometimes they would hover above the water to survey the situation but would normally dive from a perch. These Kingfisher would also take other aquatic invertebrates spiders and lizards.

The calls are almost an uniformly high pitched squeak made during flight. When perched the posture is near upright most of the time.

The bird in monogamous and highly territorial

Nesting is a burrow in the sift earth bank which the couple excavate. No bedding material inside which the female would lay about 2 eggs. The parent took turn to incubate the eggs and feeding the chicks. These processes of hatching and fledging of a pair of the Rufous-back Kingfishers were well monitored by large international crowd in Perdik in 2011.

  The Ceyx species are mainly birds of wet rainforest where a water source is close by. They need not be seen near water and are hidden in the jungle. The only time to spot them is when they are darting across open area.

 The Alcedo kingfishers are usually  found with fresh water, perched in the open by the banks on the river or boulders in the middle for stream. They could be sensitive to human presence though many could tolerate our presence as long as the distance is kept.

Here is the list of the River Kingfishers that can be seen in Malaysia

Common Kingfisher


Alcedo atthis

Blue-eared Kingfisher


Alcedo meninting

Blue-banded Kingfisher


Alcedo euryzona

Black-backed Kingfisher


Ceyx erithaca

Rufous-backed Kingfisher


Ceyx rufidorsa


While all the Kingfishers that appear on this page are considered as small and even described as dwarf, the Alcedo are sometimes also known as Blue Kingfishers while the Ceyx as Dwarf Kingfishers. Worldwide there 24 such species and in South east Asia only 6 species. We are lucky to have 5 of these in Malaysia.

Though the birds are available in Malaysia, catching up with them and seeing them could vary from near impossible to very good chance of meeting up with them. That is to say, the birds are not seen for most part of the year. But when they are around, usually to very specific spots, then they remain in that same area for some time. Particularly the Alcedo that are perched in the open.


1. Black-backed Kingfishers   Ceyx erithaca


 Size & diagnostic markings:- 12 Cm. The kingfishers in this section are real tiny and this one is the smallest Kingfisher at 12 cm. The bird has some extremity by having a blackish blue upper part and in contrast a creamy yellowish under part, then combined with a bright red bill. It has patch of blue behind its ear.

 Distribution :-  At the foothills of the Himalayas in northern India, Bangladesh, Sri Langka Andaman and down to Sumatra, Java and then Borneo.
 Habitats & preferences:- This is a forest bird, that prefers small pools of waters or brooks. That is the usual preferences but in its migration route, the birds had also chosen much varied spots making it difficult to ascertain the most preferred type of environment.
 In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:- There were report of odd places without any consistency. So far Panti in Johore has the most feed back.
 My personal jottings :-

This is one time, I am searching for answer myself and from the fact that there are few pictures, hope to meet up more with the bird in future.


Record of bird's call :-    and Video:-  

Black-backed Kingfisher # 1

Black-backed Kingfisher # 2

Black-backed Kingfisher #  3


2. Blue-banded Kingfisher Alcedo euryzona


 Size & diagnostic markings:- 20 Cm. Surprise for me that this is the largest "small" Kingfisher. Measuring 20 cm.  almost the size of the regular Kingfisher. In real life the bird appeared small to me. This is a dull but dark blue bird with a white breast and a bright blue band across. With the rufous under part that makes the female appearing so different from the male. The upper part for the female is still dark blue but with a strong tinge of brown.

 Distribution :-  This is a bird of the Sumatra, Java and Borneo Islands.
 Habitats & preferences:- This is another lowland forest bird. The special preference of this bird is - the size of river or streams that it is hunting in. Usually fair size river at the part with rapids and boulders. Have seen the bird in smaller stream without boulders too as in Kemensah.
 In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:- Most famous would be the river in Ampang and in Ulu Piap.
 My personal jottings :-

This is another "small" kingfisher at about 20 cm. The female that is similar to that of the Common Kingfisher is marginally bulkier. Though this bird continue to visit its old haunt on its every trip to Malaysia, its still very difficult to see. Its where about is also prompted by its call in flight. Unfortunately, the bird do not stay long in one perch, but continue to scuttle to and forth. the bird display quite contrasting behavior. In some birding spot, the bird is quite confident with human presence while others display sensitive behavior and disappear soonest as someone appear.

The bird is coming over to the Malay Peninsula, I do not know from where. In the same location both male and female took turns to be are sighted. So far never seen the couple together at the same time.

Their favorite feeding ground are remote parts of river with swift flowing water among boulders. Example are Ampang Recreation Park, Kemensah Trong and Ulu Piap. All these spots fairly remote are also popular picnic areas. These places are extremely remote plus some well patronized by picnickers. The extremity in conditions is also good food for thought.


Record of bird's call :-    and Video:-

Blue-banded Kingfisher # 1

Blue-banded Kingfisher # 2

Blue-banded Kingfisher # 3

male Kingfisher # 4

male Kingfisher # 5

male Kingfisher # 6

male Kingfisher # 7

female Kingfisher # 8

female Kingfisher # 9

Blue-banded Kingfisher # 10

Blue-banded Kingfisher # 11

Blue-banded Kingfisher #  12

male Kingfisher # 16

juvenile Kingfisher # 17

juvenile Kingfisher #  18

juvenile Kingfisher # 19

juvenile Kingfisher # 20

juvenile Kingfisher #  21

Blue-banded Kingfisher # 22

Blue-banded Kingfisher # 23

Blue-banded Kingfisher #  24

Blue-banded Kingfisher # 25

juvenile Kingfisher # 26

male Kingfisher #  27


3. Blue-eared Kingfishers Alcedo meninting


 Size & diagnostic markings:- 16 Cm. The bird is marginally smaller than the Common Kingfisher. Though having lots of similarity with the Common Kingfisher, the upper part is in deep blue without any turquoise. The ear covert is also blue. The under part in deep orange rufous. The bill is black, except that those of the female, she has a deep red lower mandible. In real life the colors of both birds are quite different, this one in deep blue and the Common turquoise.

 Distribution :-  The Indian Sub-continent, South-west China, Sri Langka, The Andaman. Then Greater Sundas and the Philippines.
 Habitats & preferences:- This is a lowland forest birds preferring small waterways and ponds within the forest.
 In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:- There are special ponds that the birds prefers and returning to the same location each year.. Effort should be spent on locating such spots.
 My personal jottings :-

Using the Common Kingfisher as a bench mark, the bird is approximately 17 Cm. The Blue-eared is slightly smaller at 16 cm. This time the color on the bill could be distinguished with those having reddish lower mandible as female. Then I am lucky to have pictures of Juvenile here as illustration.

Unlike the Common, this bird is wintering in Malaysia. We get to see them for a longer duration. Like other Kingfishers, its presence in the vicinity is prompted by its call in flight. Knowing its favorite haunt and waiting for its calls is one and only way of spotting the tiny bird. The bird returns to its regular hunting ground year after year.

My favorite place of meeting up with them is now  in Kemensah, though it had also making consistent appearances in Perdik and the area of the National Zoo. I need not travel far.


Record of bird's calls :-    and Videos:-

male Kingfisher # 1

male Kingfisher # 2

male Kingfisher # 3

male Kingfisher # 4

Blue-eared Kingfisher # 5

Blue-eared Kingfisher # 6

juvenile female Kingfisher # 7

Blue-eared Kingfisher # 8

Blue-eared Kingfisher # 9

Blue-eared Kingfisher # 10

female Kingfisher # 11

Juvenile Kingfisher # 12

Blue-eared Kingfisher # 16

juvenile Kingfisher # 17

juvenile Kingfisher # 18

juvenile Kingfisher # 19

juvenile Kingfisher # 20

Blue-eared Kingfisher # 21

Blue-eared Kingfisher # 22

Blue-eared Kingfisher # 23

Blue-eared Kingfisher # 24

juvenile Kingfisher # 25

juvenile Kingfisher # 26

juvenile Kingfisher # 27


4. Common Kingfishers   Alcedo atthis


 Size & diagnostic markings:- 17 Cm The Common Kingfisher averages out to 17 cm long and could be the largest small Kingfisher among this group. The upper part is in strong tinge of turquoise sort of blue with a rufous ear coverts. The under part is rufous.

 Distribution :-  The bird breeds in north Africa and can be found Indian Sub-continent, Southern Tibet through China, Taiwan and Korea. Then down from Japan to the Polynesian island in the south.
 Habitats & preferences:- The bird is found in waterways, mainly streams in forested areas. So this is a lowland bird.
 In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:- Since the bird very close to my house in urban Kiara park which is forested. The most common place to see the bird is within the canals in rice fields.
 My personal jottings :-

This bird is 17 cm large and according to Robson, the female has the lower mandible in reddish orange, which means all those in the pictures here are female. Otherwise the bill should be mostly blackish. Quite doubtful!

A lot has being written about the choice of names here "Common" - meaning this is a very common Kingfisher in one place or many places. This bird is very rare in Peninsula Malaysia. The distribution of this bird is over the Asian sub-continent to the islands in the Sunda. I noted from photographs posted on the internet, the bird was sighted in many parts of the world. In Malaysia, the bird is a passage migrant in the northern winter months, during that time, this bird is commonly seen. Avoiding deep forest, the choice of feeding ground are small streams and waterways near urban areas . Good months are October/November & then January/February.

Record of bird's calls :-    and Video:-

Common Kingfisher # 1

Common Kingfisher # 2

Common Kingfisher# 3

Common Kingfisher # 4

Common Kingfisher # 5

Common Kingfisher # 6

Common Kingfisher # 7

Common Kingfisher # 8

Common Kingfisher # 9

Common Kingfisher # 10

Common Kingfisher # 11

Common Kingfisher # 12

Common Kingfisher # 16

Common Kingfisher # 17

Common Kingfisher # 18

Common Kingfisher # 19

Common Kingfisher # 20

Common Kingfisher # 21

Common Kingfisher # 22

Common Kingfisher # 23

Common Kingfisher # 24

Common Kingfisher # 25

Common Kingfisher # 26

Common Kingfisher # 27

5. Rufous-backed Kingfishers   Ceyx rufidorsa

 Size & diagnostic markings:- 14 Cm. Both the Rufous-backed and the Black backed are "Ceyx". Both were commonly known as the Oriental-Dwarf Kingfisher. Now there is split into 2 distinct sub-species. There is a third which is a Black-backed too under the name of C. motleyi, endemic to Borneo island. back to this Rufous-backed Kingfisher. The bird is very much the same as the Black-backed Kingfisher with exception like the scapulars and mantle in rufous and not black, The dark blue patch behind the ears not there.

 Distribution :-  This is a bird of the Greater and Lesser Sundas and the Philippines. There are more sightings in Peninsula during the migratory season.
 Habitats & preferences:- This is a lowland forest bird that prefers pristine forest environment. In them are small stream and stagnant pools. Most times hiding in heavy vegetation near water sources and darting across forest floor for food. Returning to the pools of water for daily routine.
 In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:- There are several places like Rengit, Kemensah, Congkak and Perdik that have thick vegetation and the bird spotted on when it leaves its place of roosting.
 My personal jottings :-

This "Flying Carrot" as we named it because of the bright red color in flight is only 13 cm. A small Kingfisher but easy to spot. Again its presence is confirmed by its call in flight. Not sure whether the bird is migratory. the very well-known one month breeding season in Perdik attracted world wide attention. Then in Rengit the bird was known to make a morning ritual at 9.00 am for its bath. These were the scattered report of its behavior. Most pictures were taken in the period of April till June, well past the migratory period of the northern season.

This birds also choose water but not necessary streams or brooks. It prefers jungle with running water and it is in these places, it gets a large variety of foods. The photographers recorded well over 10 different types. Most preferred Lizard, crabs, prawns, small fishes and insects. The bird would whizzed past thick foliages over trickling  waterways. The bird in Congkak is now spotted the whole year round.


Record of bird's call :-    and Video:-

Rufous-backed Kingfisher # 1

Rufous-backed Kingfisher # 2

Rufous-backed Kingfisher# 3

Rufous-backed Kingfisher # 4

Rufous-backed Kingfisher # 5

Rufous-backed Kingfisher# 6

Rufous-backed Kingfisher # 7

Rufous-backed Kingfisher # 8

Rufous-backed Kingfisher # 9

Rufous-backed Kingfisher # 10

Rufous-backed Kingfisher # 11

Rufous-backed Kingfisher # 12

Rufous-backed Kingfisher # 16

Rufous-backed Kingfisher # 17

Rufous-backed Kingfisher # 18

Rufous-backed Kingfisher # 19

Rufous-backed Kingfisher # 20

Rufous-backed Kingfisher # 21

Rufous-backed Kingfisher # 22

Rufous-backed Kingfisher # 23

Rufous-backed Kingfisher # 24

Rufous-backed Kingfisher # 25

Rufous-backed Kingfisher # 26

Rufous-backed Kingfisher # 27


It is certainly interesting to understand the 2 main types of Kingfishers and also the distinctive way each species chooses the habitats that they hunt in. This itself would allow us to understand their diet which leads us to seeking their food sources and eventually meeting up with them.

I think by putting together the little bits and pieces about the birds and that little we know about their habits do point to more definitive direction where our focus should be laid when we see the bird next. Since all these are hard to see birds, it is through long period of time and the increased sightings that we could gather more points.