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White-throated Kingfisher
Halcyon smyrnensis

White-breasted Kingfisher,
Pekaka Belukar/Dusun/Ungu (Malay)

white-throated kingfisher (back)White-throated Kingfishers are not as common in Singapore as they are in peninsular Malaysia. Nevertheless, they make their presence known by their loud calls. They are often sighted in rural areas, perching on telephone wires or other vantage points (8-10 m up).

White-throated Kingfishers as a group eat a wide range of food, but each bird may specialise in a particular prey. They take fish (particularly during the wet season). But other prey make up the bulk of their diet. These include tadpoles, grasshoppers, lizards, insects. They basically take any small creature that they can catch and kill.

While hunting along the water, they prey on crabs, amphibians (frogs) and reptiles (skinks, lizards). On land, they hunt large insects and arthropods (grasshoppers, beetles, termites, scorpions, centipedes). They beat these against their perch to kill and remove venomous stings. They even take small mammals (rats, mice, voles), snakes up to 65cm long, and nestling birds.
Mangrove and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
Main features: Medium (28cm); throat and breast white, but no white collar; head and rest of underparts chocolate brown. Wings, tail and back turquoise; bill large (6-7cm), red; feet red.
Female: brown parts not so dark.

Juvenile: Duller; bill initially dark; fine dark scallops on white breast; lesser wing-coverts mottled black.

Call: Described as a loud shrill whinnying kek-kek which trails off; a harsh repeated klip; a piercing staccato laugh.

In flight: Blue with wing tips black; white patch at base of primaries;

Similar birds:
Collared Kingfisher (H./Todirhamphus chloris) has white collar; black bill and feet; blue cap; no brown underparts; in flight uniformly blue upperparts.
Black-capped Kingfisher (Halcyon pileata) has white collar, black cap. in flight appears similar.

Status in Singapore: Common resident throughout the island and North and South offshore islands.

World distribution: Middle East through the Asian subcontinent to the Philippines.

Classification: Family Alcedinidae, subfamily Dacelonidae. World 61 species, Singapore 5 species.

White-throated Kingfishers dive to catch aquatic prey; in shallow water, entering feet-first, in deeper waters, head-first. They can also hover for a short while before plunging in. They also dive into grass and vegetation to catch their prey. Their huge bills come in handy to hammer their prey to death. Swarming termites may also be caught in flight.

Their hunts appear to be more successful in wetlands than on dry land. White-throated Kingfishers hunt alone, but where hunting is good, they may perch as close as 100 m apart without showing much hostility.

Breeding: White-throated Kingfishers breed in Singapore in December-May. Courting White-throated Kingfishers display on a perch as they sing, spreading out their wings to show the white patches. Some perform a courtship flight, flying straight up then spiralling downwards.

White-throated Kingfishers nest in steep earth banks besides roads and stream, and occasionally, termite mounds. They dig out a tunnel about 7 cm wide, 50 cm to nearly 1 m deep ending in a breeding chamber about 20 cm in diameter. During the construction period, the mated pair are very vocal and call and display to each other continuously. 4-7 white eggs are laid. Both parents raise the chicks.

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

Migration: White-throated Kingfishers in Singapore are resident. Elsewhere they migrate, but within their breeding range.

Status and threats: White-throated Kingfishers are not considered at risk in Singapore, possibly because of their broad diet. They are found everywhere, not necessarily near water. Besides ponds, reservoirs, and coastal areas, they are also found in forest edges, scrub, open woodlands, gardens and rural/suburban areas.

  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. 182: description, voice, habits, distribution, status, photo).
  • Morten Strange, "Tropical Birds of Malaysia and Singapore", Periplus Editions, 2000 (p. 34: habits, habitat, photo).
  • David R Wells, "The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula: Vol. 1 (Non-Passarines)", Academic Press, 1999 (p. 511-512: identification, distribution map, habits, habitat, migration, conservation).
  • Morten Strange, "Birds of Southeast Asia: A photographic guide to the birds of Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia", New Holland, 1998 (p. 44: photo, facts).
  • Lim Kim Seng and Dana Gardner, "Birds: An Illustrated Field Guide to the Birds of Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing Ltd., 1997 (p. 32: 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. 60: 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. 52: description, distribution, habits, habitat, photo).
  • Clive Briffett, "A Guide to the Common Birds of Singapore", BP Science Centre,1992 (p. 81: habit, habitat).
  • Christopher Hails, "Birds of Singapore" illustrated by Frank Jarvis, Times Editions, 1987 reprinted 1995 (p. 104: habits, description, status in Singapore, and lovely drawings of the birds).
  • Lim Kim Seng, "Vanishing Birds of Singapore", Nature Society (Singapore), 1992 (p. 11: status in Singapore).
  • Lim Kim Seng, "Pocket Checklist of the Birds of the Republic of Singapore", Nature Society (Singapore), 1999 (Abundance, status, Chinese and Malay names).
  • M W F Tweedie, "Common Birds of the Malay Peninsula", Longman,1970 (p. 28: description, distribution, habits, habitat, drawing).
  • G C Madoc, "An Introduction to Malayan Birds", Malayan Nature Society, 1947 (p. 95-96: description, habits, habitat).
  • Sir John A S Bucknill and E N Chasen, " Birds of Singapore and South-East Asia", Tynron Press, 1927, edition 1990 (p. 121-122: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, field notes on habits, drawings).
  • C Hillary Fry and Kathie Fry, "Kingfishers, Bee-Eaters and Rollers: A Handbook", Christopher Helm, 1992 (p. 143-145: identification, habitat, habits).
  • 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).
By Ria Tan, 2001