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The woodland kingfisher, halcyon senegalensis

The bosveld visvanger (Afrikaans)

My favourite family of birds is by far the kingfisher family. One of my life goals is to see all kingfisher species in the world, around 118 in total so it’s not an easy goal to achieve.

Bird migration

One of the kingfishers is the woodland kingfisher. It is an intra-African migrant and you can find them in South Africa between October and April. They follow the raining season, that’s why they were a little bit late this year. I saw them the 1st time on the 15th of November. They are sedentary in equatorial forests and migratory in subtropical savannas. According to their scientific name Senegalensis, they come from Senegal.

Feeding and hunting

In contrast to their name, kingfisher, they don’t eat fish. They could catch fish, but their main diet consists of insects (especially grasshoppers), lizards, small birds (bronze mannikin and chicks of several birds), snakes and frogs. From a high perch they dive on to their prey and return to the same or another perch. The prey is held crosswise in the bill and is beaten against the perch until they are immobilized. Then the prey is swallowed head-first.


They make their nest in natural cavities or in old woodpeckers nests. The female lays 2-4 eggs and they take 13-14 days to hatch. Both sexes take shifts of up to 40 minutes by day. At night, only the female broods.

Kingfisher sounds

Once you are out in the bush in this period, you are definitely going to hear the woodland kingfisher. They have a very clear sound. They start with a high, staccato note, ‘tiu’, followed after 1 second by descending trill ‘krit, trrrrrrrr’ fading towards the end.

Unfortunately the woodland kingfisher will leave in a few weeks, but until that day I will enjoy the sound and beautiful colours.

Written by Frank de Rijcke
Photo credits:  @jan__wilke

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