African Pygmy Kingfisher – Ispidina picta

Common species – Simple page (basic) – Space available for advert
Family Alcedinidae (kingfishers, kookaburras) – Martin-pêcheur pygmée en français
First publication : 10 January 2018 – Last update : 30 May 2022


This gorgeous little bird is common in almost the whole of Africa, South of the Sahara. However, he avoids the dry South-West and the most arid parts of the Horn of Africa. He lives in forests, woodlands, savannas and other habitats as long as there are trees or bushes. With its very small size and habit to perch in the middle of the leaves, it is not seen by the birdwatchers as much as other kingfishers less secretive. In addition, its call is sometimes unnoticed with the many other noises of the forest. The big buff/orange eyebrow that separates the blue crown from the eyes is typical. The other small blue kingfishers don’t have this eyebrow. Dwarf Kingfisher is also tiny and lives in forest but it has no blue on the head; in opposite, it has a black spot on the forehead. The Malachite Kingfisher from the wetlands and swamps has the crown all blue down to the eyes.

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Taxonomy and sub-species

Three sub-species are described based on minor differences, but as one is a migrant, they sometimes overlap. Keenest birdwatchers would try to identify them in the field. By definition of sub-species, there is always a proportion of uncertainty and risk of hybrids. However, southern sub-species Ispidina picta natalensis a partial migrant that can spend non-breeding season in East Africa where the two other subspecies are resident; overlap can therefore occurs at least in Northern Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.

The southern sub-species shows a little blue spot above the white spot of the neck, and paler orange underparts. Among our photos, the one on top (in the title of the blog) seems to show a little blue spot and it is pale on the belly, it should be a I. p. natalensis. Taken exactly in the same area of Western Uganda (Kasese), the bottom bird (same individual on the two last photos below) doesn’t show any blue spot and the red underparts are deeply saturated. It is the typical phenotype of I. p. ferrugina.

Our African Pygmy Kingfisher was placed formerly in genus Alcedo like Euopean Kingfisher, then subsequently in the genus Ceyx with Asian pygmy kingfishers or even with the small aquatic kingfishers of Africa and Madagascar Corythornis. It has now received the genus Ispidina with its closest other species, African Dwarf Kingfisher (Ispidina lecontei) but taxonomy can change again as relationships with Malagasy and Asian relatives are still disputed.

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[Species #10 of the Holistic Encyclopedia of Birds project]

List of other species pages: taxonomicalday per day


All photos and text are © Valéry Schollaert and Marinella Mejia

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