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Common Kingfisher
Alcedo atthis

Pekaka Cit-Cit Kecil, Raja Udang (Malay)

Common Kingfishers are not as common in Singapore as they are in temperate countries. Here, other Kingfishers are more likely to be encountered.

common kingfisher on a perchCommon Kingfishers are among the few Kingfishers that specialise in fishing. They are well known for plunging into the water to catch their prey: mainly small fish (60%) and prawns (30%), although they do pick off crabs and small mudskippers from mudflats. Common Kingfishers prefer to hunt in shallow water which gives them better accuracy.

Common Kingfishers usually perch on a convenient branch or pole about 1-2m from the water surface. They plunge into the water from their perch (90%); or hover before diving in (3%). They have keen eyesight with polarising filters to cut out water reflection and better see their prey. They also learn to compensate for refraction. When they plunge into the water, the eyes are protected by a membrane. So they actually catch their prey blind, relying on touch to decide when to snap their bills shut. They then fly straight out of the water with their prey in their bills.

Mangrove and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
Main features: Small (17cm, 27-36g); upperparts turquoise-green, underparts pale to mid-orange; throat white; head sides white with rufous ear coverts; bill black; feet tiny, red.

Male: Bill all black.
Female: Bill mandible base orange.

Juvenile: Bill as in female, may have a white tip; upper parts paler and duller; sooty fringing across breast.

Call: Described as a trill; shrill, high-pitched seep-seep, repeated 2-3 times, usually in flight.

In flight: Bright metallic green-blue back and rump. Flight is direct and low.
male common kingfisher
female common kingfisher (seeking permission for use)

Photo from
Morten Strange and
Allen Jeyarajasingam
Similar birds: Other kingfishers are much larger; lacks white head sides.

Status in Singapore: Very common winter visitor throughout the island and North and South offshore islands.

World distribution: Throughout Old World to New Guinea and Pacific Islands, but not in Australia.

Classification: Family Alcedinidae, subfamily Alcedininae. World 26 species, Singapore 2 species. There are 9 subspecies of the Common Kingfisher.
Before eating a fish, the bird will hold it by its tail and whack it to death against the perch, particularly fishes with poky fins. Otherwise, the live fish may extend its fins in the bird's throat, choking it, sometimes to death. Kingfishers regurgitate pellets of indigestible fishbone. The birds preen themselves carefully after fishing to ensure their feathers remain waterproof. Juveniles often nearly drown because they failed to pay enough attention to preening.

Common Kingfishers are solitary and highly territorial because they have to eat about 60% of their body weight a day. They fiercely defend their feeding grounds, even from their mates and offspring. When contesting territory, they perform a ritual display perched some distance from each other. This involves displaying feathers and beaks, accompanied by whistling. Usually the dispute is resolved without actual combat. But in rare instances, combatants will lock beaks and attempt to drown each other.

Breeding: Common Kingfishers seen in Singapore are visitors and breed in Northern Asia (e.g., Taiwan, Korea). But there is a small resident population in peninsular Malaysia. For those in Europe, courtship involves chasing and calling and usually culminates in the male catching and offering the female an "engagement fish".

Common Kingfishers nest on steep river banks, or even active termite mounds, digging out a tunnel that ends in a chamber. 4-8, usually 2, white eggs are laid, incubated by both parents in 18-21 days. Both parents raise the young. The chicks fledge in about 23-24 days. Mortality rates can be as high as 50%.

For more about the hunting methods and breeding habits of Kingfishers in general.

Migration: Common Kingfishers that breed far north migrate to the south, usually travelling at night. They may travel past the breeding grounds of more southerly residents, and go all the way to eastern Indonesia. In Singapore, they are more common in August to April.

Status and threats: The Common Kingfisher is not at risk in Singapore where they are found near open streams, canals, reservoirs, ponds and along the coasts. They are usually not found in forests or densely forested streams.


About the European Common Kingfisher
  To buy these references & others, visit
Nature's Niche
  • Morten Strange, "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Malaysia and Singapore: including Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Borneo", Periplus, 2000 (p. 178: description, voice, habits, distribution, status, photo).
  • David R Wells, "The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula: Vol. 1 (Non-Passarines)", Academic Press, 1999 (p. 520-522: identification, distribution map, habits, habitat, migration, conservation).
  • Lim Kim Seng, "Pocket Checklist of the Birds of the Republic of Singapore", Nature Society (Singapore), 1999 (Abundance, status, Chinese and Malay names).
  • James Gan, "Colourful Migratory Birds at Sungei Buloh", Wetlands Vol 5 No 3, Nov 98, Sungei Buloh Nature Park (p. 3).
  • Lim Kim Seng and Dana Gardner, "Birds: An Illustrated Field Guide to the Birds of Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing Ltd., 1997 (p. 31: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, diagram, number of species).
  • G W H Davison and Chew Yen Fook, "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore", New Holland Publishers Ltd., 1995 (p. 59: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, photo).
  • Morten Strange and Allen Jeyarajasingam, "Birds: A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing, 1993 (p. 134: description, distribution, habits, habitat, photo).
  • Lim Kim Seng, "Vanishing Birds of Singapore", Nature Society (Singapore), 1992 (p. 11: status in Singapore).
  • Christopher Hails, "Birds of Singapore" illustrated by Frank Jarvis, Times Editions, 1987 reprinted 1995 (p. 103: habits, description, status in Singapore, and lovely drawings of the birds).
  • M W F Tweedie, "Common Birds of the Malay Peninsula", Longman,1970 (p. 28: brief description).
  • G C Madoc, "An Introduction to Malayan Birds", Malayan Nature Society, 1947 (p. 97-98: description, habits, habitat).
  • Prof. Dr. Yong Hoi Sen (ed.), "The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Animals"; Kingfishers and Woodpeckers by Siti Hawa bt Yatim, Editions Didier Millet, 1998 (p. 56: habits, habitats).
  • Charlie Hamilton James, "Kingfishers", Colin Baxter Photography, 1997 (whole book has lots of info about the European race of the Common Kingfisher).
By Ria Tan, 2001