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Ceryle rudis (Pied kingfisher) 

Bontvisvanger [Afrikaans]; Isaxwila (generic term for kingfisher) [Xhosa]; iHlabahlabane, isiQuba, isiXula [Zulu]; Muningi (generic term for kingfisher) [Kwangali]; Seinoli (generic term for kingfisher) [South Sotho]; Chinyurirahove [Shona]; Lonombe [Swazi]; Tshololwana (generic term for kingfisher) [Tsonga]; Mmatlhapi, SeinŰdi (generic terms for kingfisher) [Tswana]; Bonte ijsvogel [Dutch]; Martin-pÍcheur pie [French]; Graufischer [German]; Pica-peixe-malhado [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Coraciiformes > Family: Cerylidae

Ceryle rudis (Pied kingfisher)  Ceryle rudis (Pied kingfisher) 

fig. 1 - Pied kingfisher male. [photo Callie de Wet ©]

fig. 2 - Pied kingfisher female, Gambia. [photo Martin Goodey ©]
Ceryle rudis (Pied kingfisher)  Ceryle rudis (Pied kingfisher) 
fig. 3 - Pied kingfisher male. [photo Callie de Wet ©] fig. 4 - Pied kingfisher female swallowing fish. [photo Callie de Wet ©]

The Pied kingfisher is one of the most common kingfishers in the world, being found in many areas of Africa and Eurasia, living in a wide range of aquatic habitats. It feeds mainly on fish, spotting prey by either sitting on perches or hovering, which it does more than any other kingfisher. It is a cooperative breeder, meaning that the breeding pair are assisted by helpers, who can either be offspring, or unrelated birds, who's breeding attempts failed. The chicks stay in the nest for 24-29 days, after which they are still dependent on their parents for 1-2 months.

Distribution and habitat

One of the most common kingfishers in the world, occurring in the middle east, southern Asia to China, Egypt and Africa south of the Sahel. In southern Africa, it is common in many areas, including South Africa, northern Botswana and Zimbabwe. It can live at any water body, as long as there are small fish, such as streams, rivers, lakes, temporary pans, estuaries, temporarily flooded areas and rocky coasts.

Distribution of Pied kingfisher in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  


It has been recorded as prey of the following animals:


Feeds mainly on fish, supplemented with invertebrates. It often uses the hovering technique for catching fish, searching for prey from a high vantage point in the air, then diving straight down into the water to grab the prey item. It immediately flies back to its perch, where it beats the prey to death then swallows it (see fig. 4 above). The following prey items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Fish
    • Pseudocrenilabrus philander (Southern mouthbrooder)
    • alastine characins (of the Characidae family)
    • Barbus (barbs)
      • Barbus paludinosus (Straightfin barb)
    • Oreochromis mossambicus (Mozambique tilapia)
    • Gilchristella aestuaria (Estuarine roundherring)
  • Invertebrates


  • Monogamous cooperative breeder, which means that the breeding pair are assisted by other birds. Primary helpers are usually one year old offspring of the breeding pair, and help with incubation, the caring of the chicks and the defending of their territory. Secondary helpers usually appear after the chicks have hatched and are initially rejected by the breeding pair, playing a lesser role than the primary helpers. Secondary helpers are unmated adults, due to failed breeding attempts. They are also have reduced testosterone levels and small testes, rendering them incapable of mating again.
  • The nesting site is excavated into a vertical sandbank by both sexes, and consists of a 0.8-1.2m long tunnel, leading to a 20-30cm wide chamber. It digs by stabbing with its open bill, interspersed with kicking out sand with its feet.
Ceryle rudis (Pied kingfisher)  

Pied kingfisher flying into its burrow, Modimolle, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ©]

  • Egg-laying season is from July-April in Zimbabwe, April-June and September-October in Botswana and from August-November in South Africa.
  • It lays 1-7, usually 4-6 eggs, which are incubated mainly by the female for about 18 days.
  • The chicks stay in the nest for 24-29 days, after which they learn to hunt. At 38-43 days old, they can dive and eat for themselves, but they only become fully independent 1-2 months after fledging.


Not threatened, in fact is one of three most common kingfishers in the world. In southern Africa, it is locally affected by endosulfan, which is a poison used to kill tsetse flies. Its population is also impacted by poisons used to kill fish and Red-billed queleas.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG (eds) 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.