Species: Collared Kingfisher Todiramphus chloris
Other common names: White-collared Kingfisher, Mangrove Kingfisher, Black-masked Kingfisher.
Taxonomy: Todiramphus chloris (Boddaert) 1783, Buru Island, Moluccas. T. chloris = synonym of Halcyon chloris. Sometimes seen as conspecific with Talaud Kingfisher T. enigma = Halcyon enigma. Formerly listed as Todirhamphus in error.
Sub-species & Distribution: It has a wide-ranging distribution, from N Africa and India extending east to Malaysian, Indonesian and Australian regions through to Samoa, Fiji and Tonga Islands in the Pacific.
Given the closeness of its relationship with T. enigma, T. cinnamominus, T. sanctus and T. tutus, the validity of sub-species, their affinities and their ranges have been subject to much debate. Anything up to forty or more sub-species have been listed, varying from author to author. Most of the island groups or large islands in the Pacific have an endemic form, with several sub-species each in the Micronesian, Solomon, Santa Cruz, New Hebrides and Samoan island groups. This suggests that it is sedentary and resident through much of its range. In Australia, however, it is a migrant.
Three races are found in this region:
Size: 8½ to 9½" (22 to 24 cm). Sexes similar.
Description: Crown dull greenish-blue, browner on fore-crown. Narrow white stripe from above the eye extending to merging with a larger white spot on lores, the latter sometimes tinged with buff. Narrow black line from base of bill, across the eyes and around nape, forming a black collar with another broad white band beneath it forming white collar. Ear-coverts vary, from black to blackish-green or blue, often with a fine white ring below the eyes. Primaries, secondaries and tertials bright blue to greenish-blue on outer webs, the inner webs being blackish-brown with a small white patch at base of all secondaries and primaries. Wing coverts bluish-green to deep blue, tipped with bright blue, brighter on median coverts, duller and sullied with brown on lesser coverts. The primary coverts are sometimes tipped black. Upper back and scapulars dull greenish-blue, sometimes browner, lower back, rump and uppertail coverts pale luminous blue, darker on uppertail coverts. Tail feathers deep greenish-blue on outer webs, edged with dark blue. Underparts, including underwing and undertail coverts, entirely white, sometimes washed with buff on the flanks.
Females are said to be greener, and less blue, than the males, immature birds being duller than adults and with dark scaly markings on the neck and breast. However, this picture of two young fledglings (Lee 2007) shows that they can also be quite blue, with only the scaly markings to denote their age.
This species exhibits a great degree of regional, sexual, seasonal and individual variation, both in size and colour (Oberholser 1919). The colour of upperparts can range from greenish-blue to the brightest cobalt and ultramarine, the ear-coverts from almost black to greenish-blue, and there is doubt if the females can, with any certainty, be distinguished from the males (Robinson 1927).
These early findings were confirmed during examination of birds trapped for ringing both in Singapore and Sarawak, with several variations being noticed within, and across, the two sets of birds.
Soft parts: Iris dark brown. Tarsus dark olive-grey, more pink on rear of tarsus, soles buffy-pink. Bill black, pinkish-white at base of lower mandible and darker at tip.
Status, Habitat & Behaviour: A common resident in Singapore (Wang & Hails 2007), and particularly plentiful on all the islands around Singapore (Kelham 1881).
Most early authors cite it as a bird almost strictly confined to the coastal areas: the vicinity of the sea or tidal rivers (Jerdon 1862); the immediate neighbourhood of the sea-coast (Hume 1878); confined to salt or brackish water and never far from the sea (Kelham 1881); exclusively an inhabitant of the seashore and never found inland (Robinson 1927); addicted to the sea coasts (Burknill & Chasen 1927); never or, at least, very rarely seen away from the coast (Edgar 1933), and almost exclusively in estuaries, the seashore and its immediate vicinity (Gibson-Hill 1949).
However, while many of its sub-forms are island-based, this species is seasonally or, at least, locally migratory in the sense that it moves to inland locations during the breeding season. Interestingly, when breeding, it eats lizards, small snakes, earthworms, arboreal frogs, large insects and locustids, and tends to feed its young with whole prey (Smythies 1968). Young birds in Singapore were seen being fed with items such as forest cockroaches, beetles, earthworms, centipedes and geckos (Lee 2007). All of this suggests more of an inland breeding environment rather than a purely coastal one.
Often found in gardens and on trees along roads in parts of Singapore (Bucknill & Chasen 1927). Though the bird was most commonly found along the coast when not breeding, and found all the year round in Bangkok, their numbers greatly increased during the breeding-season, the bird becoming very common, tame and confiding, haunting the vicinity of villages and towns and even breeding close to houses (Baker 1927). More recently, an analysis of banding data in Sabah suggested that the birds bred inland and then moved to the coast (Sheldon et al. 2001).
Many of these early reports date back to the early 20th Century when much of Malaya and Singapore was densely forested. Its current status suggests a versatile species, one that has greatly expanded its range to colonise more inland habitats as forested areas were cleared for development. Wells (1999) records it progressively appearing in inland areas: Johore in 1950, Negeri Sembilan by the mid-1960's, around Kuala Lumpur by the late 1970's, and more widely in the late 1980's.
Though it is now still common on islands, along the seashore, mangrove and beach forests, estuaries and up the tidal reaches of rivers, it also frequents the gardens of seaside bungalows and coconut groves by coastal kampongs. Farther inland, often some distance from the coast and quite independant of water, it can be seen in gardens, open wooded country, orchards and clearings around towns, padi fields and in old rubber plantations, from sea level to 300m. It generally avoids forests.
In many respects, its behaviour is much like that of the White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis. They characteristically hunt from conspicuously exposed perches, on fishing stakes, rocks or coconut palms along the shoreline, fence posts, service cables by the roadside and bare branches of tall trees.
It remains almost motionless for long periods waiting for its prey, often coming to the ground to snatch up crabs, lizards, grasshoppers and other small items. They are quite bold, and can sometimes be seen hanging around fishermen as they haul in their catch, looking for fleeing fish or discards. One was seen flying down from a mangrove tree, keeping low over the beach in a long leisurely glide, to pick up a crab on the wing before returning to its perch to eat its prey. Large prey items are usually smashed against a branch or rock to subdue them, or to remove unwanted appendages.
On hot afternoons, during low tide, it glides down swiftly to perch on rocks at the water's edge or on the foreshore, constantly diving into small pools to bathe and preen itself.
Food: On exposed mudflats at low tide, it mainly takes small crabs, other crustaceans and mudskippers (Periopthalmus spp.), as well as grasshoppers, crickets, locusts, lizards and centipedes at inland sites (Ali & Ripley 1970). It also takes centipedes, large beetles, scarabs (Exophilis hypoleuca), arboreal frogs, carpenter bees taken on the wing, earthworms, Agamid lizards, small snakes, other small reptiles (Smythies 1968), and squid (Sheldon et al. 2001). Oates & Blanford (1895) has recorded this bird hammering hermit-crabs shells against stones in order to break the shells.
In Singapore, it was seen eating the caterpillar of a Privet Hawk Moth Psilogramma menephron (Wee 2006), a cicada (Leong 2011a), a small frog (Yap et al. 2010), a Garden Supple Skink Riopa bowringii (Subaraj 2008) and what was tentatively identified as a juvenile Green-spotted Puffer Tetraodon nigroviridis (Ng & Lim 2009).
Additionally, there was a strange report of it taking an Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa dauurica (Lai & Cheong 2011). However, the flycatcher was dropped in flight shortly afterwards. There is no record of this bird taking and eating small birds. The White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis, however, is known to take small birds (Willis 2007) and young domestic chickens, even raiding the nests of starlings and swifts (Madoc 1947).
On the Talang Talang islands, in Sarawak, it was seen taking a four-inch long fish, bashing it to death, and swallowing it whole but, more often, it was seen taking crabs rather than fish. Once it took a crab so large that it could barely keep hold of it. Then, perched on a rock, it systematically beat the crab against the rock until all the appendages had fallen off, then swallowed the remnants whole (Sreedharan 1997). Indigestible remains are regurgitated as pellets.
Voice and Calls: They are noisy birds, almost excessively so when paired up, chasing one another from tree to tree with their harsh laughing call (Hume 1878). Its loud call has been variously described as krerk-krerk-krerk-krerk (Baker 1927), kree-chah, kree-chah (Tweedie 1960) or, in Sarawak, a loud chew-chew-chew-chew-chew, usually of five notes, sometimes four, rarely three or six, given at regular intervals, especially at dawn (Smythies 1968).
On the Talang Talang islands, the call was a loud and shrill call kee-kee, kee-kee, kee-kee, kee-kee, sounded five to seven times, sometimes ending in a faster ki-ki-ki-kih, the bird wagging its tail up and down with each note, and a high reeling call, chi-kreeh-chi-kreeh-chi-kreeh (Sreedharan 1997).
Tom Harrisson, who had kept a pair in captivity for over three years, listed five distinct call notes, each entirely restricted to a special function (Smythies 1968):
Breeding: In Singapore, nest-building was noted in January, February, March and May, eggs found in April and July, nestlings in March, May, June and August, and immature birds in April (Wang & Hails 2007), suggesting an extended breeding season or, possibly, that the birds are double-brooded.
In West Malaysia, the nesting season extends from January to August, a nest containing three young birds being found on 10th February (Edgar 1933). It has also been recorded in December (Medway & Wells 1976). In Sabah, breeding occurs between April and October (Smythies & Davison 1999) and, in Sarawak, between March to August.
The birds excavate their nesting burrows in a variety of sites, depending on location and setting. Nest holes have been found along the wall of a canal (Leong 2011b) and, at Changi, two nest holes were found in the trunks of coconut palms, the third in an old and gnarled durian tree growing about a mile from the coast. In one instance, the same nest site was used three times in succession (Spittle 1949).
In Perak, most nests were holes in trees, usually about one to five feet above the high tide mark, two nests being as high as thirty feet up a tree, one at the root of a fallen coconut tree by the seashore, and another being a hole drilled into a "live" white-ants' nest (Edgar 1933). In Sarawak, the nest hole was excavated into a durian tree (Smythies 1968).
In Thailand, around Bangkok, the northern form, T. c. armstrongi, nearly always built its nest within an ants' nest. The ants make great black nests, looking like papier mâché, sometimes more than a foot in diameter, blocking up the entrance of tree hollows. Once, the nest hole was excavated into a termite mound. In both cases, the nests were live ones full of termites, or ants (Baker 1927). In Myanmar, the same sub-form nested in a deserted ants' nest taken over by hornets (Oates & Blanford 1895).
Making the nest hole starts with a series of rapid flights, by each bird in turn, from a branch about six to ten feet away from the target. Flying at speed, the bird hits the tree trunk with the tip of the bill, the feet then being brought up under the belly for support. A few seconds later, the bird returns to the perch. As the hole deepens, the bird inserts the bill into the opening and hammers away for a few second before returning to its perch. The birds may work on as many as eight holes concurrently, eventually reducing it to three holes, and may work on them daily before deciding which hole they will use (Smythies 1968).
A nest in Singapore was about 15 feet above ground, half-way up the trunk of a coconut palm, where the trunk measured 9" in diameter. Its irregular entrance was around 3¼" high and 1¾" wide. The nest cavity, about 5¾" high and 4¾" in diameter, chipped out by the birds themselves, was quite smoothly finished. Thus, the walls of the chamber were just over 2" thick, its floor lying 1¼ " below the level of the entrance opening, the ceiling 1" above the top of the opening. The nest lining was limited to fragments of insects, wood-chippings and egg-shells (Spittle 1949).
In Perak, a three-feet long nest tunnel was found, excavated into soft earth at the base of a fallen tree. Nest holes were also made in partly rotten trees. The distance from the small entrance hole to the back of the nest chamber was often only six inches, never more than a foot. The nest chamber was unlined, and the eggs laid on the soft decaying wood. Often, the floor of the chamber was several inches lower than the entrance hole, but varied according to the softness of the wood inside the tree (Edgar 1933).
On the Talang Talang islands, an instance of courtship feeding was noticed. One of two birds, perched near one another but on different rocks, dived down to the shoreline to pick up a small crab in a single fluid movement, then flew back to sit close to but at a slightly lower level than the other bird. The latter bird, presumably a female, leaned down, opened its bill wide and made begging motions. When fed with the crab, it proceeded to bash the crab against the rocks before eating it. Following courtship feeding, copulation usually takes place but did not occur in this instance (Sreedharan 1997).
Once paired up, they hold a distinct territory and fiercely defend it. Any other bird coming near its nest gets chased around quite a bit. This has also been recorded in Singapore (Chan 2007). On the Talang Talang islands, it was once seen furiously attacking and chasing away a White-breasted Woodswallow Artamus leucorhynchus (Sreedharan 1997). It has also been known to attack other animals, including dogs, cats and squirrels, in defence of its territory (Smythies 1968).
The clutch almost always consists of three eggs but, very occasionally, only two are laid. The eggs, white, slightly glossy and faintly translucent, have an average size of 29.0 x 24.4 mm (1.14 x 0.96") (Edgar 1933). However, clutches with four eggs have been reported (Baker 1927, Robinson 1927), and an unusual clutch with as many as seven eggs (Medway & Wells 1976). Both parents help incubate the eggs and take care of the young. The incubation period is not known.
The young are blind, naked and practically white-skinned, their egg shells often being discarded just outside the nest (Spittle 1949). The young are fed with whole prey (Smythies 1968), items such as forest cockroaches, beetles, earthworms, centipedes and geckos (Lee 2007). From egg laying to the time the fledglings leave the nest takes about 44 days (Smythies & Davison 1999). Often, two broods are raised in a year.
Moult: Breeding adults undergo a complete post-nuptial moult. First-year birds complete post-juvenile moult before the onset of the next breeding season. The primaries moult centrifugally, the secondaries start at around P4 to P5 and is completed by P10. Tail moult, usually centrifugal, is sometimes irregular.
One bird at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, on 6th January, was in an advanced state of moult: the left wing entirely new, right wing P1 to P9 = new, P10 = 1, secondaries = new. Tail moult was asymmetrical. Left tail: T1 = 2, T2 = 1, T3 to T6 = new, right tail: T1 = 2, T2 to T6 = new. Another bird (29th January) had both wings new, the tail in regular centrifugal moult: T1 to T3 = new, T4 to T6 = 1. Both these birds were, most probably, first-year birds in post-juvenile moult before the start of the new breeding season in January.
In Sarawak, where the breeding season lies between March to August, six birds caught in March on the Talang Talang islands showed no sign of moult. At Bako National Park, two birds caught in August were both undergoing wing moult. One bird had P1 and P2 = 4, P3 = 2, the rest old, the other had P1 to P4 = 5, P5 = 4, P6 = 2, the rest old.
Sedentary birds at Rantau Panjang were undergoing wing moult: from P2 on 7th July to P10 on 30th January (Medway & Wells 1976). Since its breeding season in West Malaysia lies between January and August, the extended moult dates, between P2 and P10, suggest that these represent moult scores from two different populations, of adult birds undergoing post-nuptial moult, followed slightly later by first-year birds in post-juvenile moult.
Miscellaneous: In early China, during the Song and Ming dynasties, the ceremonial headdresses and filigree ornaments used by empresses, princesses and concubines were made of gold, inlaid with small pieces of iridescent blue feathers taken from kingfishers. In later periods, this trend became popular even among the courtiers and the rich. The resultant trade in kingfisher feathers was so great that huge numbers of these birds were killed, to the extent that the bird nearly became extinct in China. To meet continued demand, new sources were tapped, from farther afield.
Charles Dickens (1865), during a visit to Canton, wrote, "The most notable were the 'bird's feather ornaments,' which consist of gold or gilt head combs, brooches, earrings, and the like, on which are firmly fixed, with glue, strips of the bright blue feathers of the kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis), cut into small patterns, through which the gold ground appears: the whole effect being exactly like that of enamel-work. The kingfisher is not, I think, found in China, but is imported in great numbers from Burmah and India. I asked the price of one skin lying on the counter, and was told half a dollar (two shillings and threepence). The bird was probably procured in India for three-halfpence .
Jerdon (1862), regarding the situation in India, wrote, "It appears that the feathers of this species are much prized by the Chinese, who buy the skins at the rate of 24 for a dollar". Chasen, writing in 1924, said that this species had suffered very severely in the few years prior to 1914, at the hands of some professional shooters who shot large numbers in the neighbourhood of Singapore.