Tag Archives: Alcedinidae

Mangareva Kingfisher

The Mangareva Kingfisher still is one of the most enigmatic birds I am aware of so far.

The species inhabited the Gambier Islands, and another species occurring 1000s of km to the northwest of it, the Niau Kingfisher (Todiramphus gertrudae Murphy), is still officially assigned to this bird as a subspecies.

I have desperately tried to find the original description of this species, and here it is.:

Il existe, en effet, depuis longtemps dans les galeries du Muséum un Martin- pêcheur qui a été rapporté en 1841 de Mangarewa (archipel Gambier) par l’Astrolabe (Voyage au Pôle Sud) et qui répond exactement à la description et à la figure de l’Halcyon Reichenbachi. Cet oiseau a le sommet de la tête d’un roux qui va en s’éclaircissant et tire au blanc jaunâtre du côté, du front, mais qui est assez intense sur le vertex où se détachent quelques plumes vertes. Sur les oreilles il existe aussi, de chaque côté une tache verte, passant au noirâtre en arrière et tendant à rejoindre une bande noire qui fait le tour de l’occiput. Cette bande foncée limite en dessus un large collier blanc, un peu sali par quelques taches noires, qui se fond sur les côtés dans la teinte blanche qui couvre toutes les parties inférieures du corps, les flancs seuls offrant un peu de roux et encore sur des points cachés entièrement par les ailes. Celles-ci sont d’un vert légèrement bleuâtre, avec des lisérés roux très fins au bord des couvertures alaires. La queue est également d’un vert bleuâtre au milieu, d’un vert mélangé de grisâtre sous lespennes externes, qui sont d’ailleurs incomplètes. Enfin le bec est noir et la mandibule, inférieure blanche ou plutôt jaunâtre dans toute sa portion basilaire. Les pattes sont d’un m brun foncé. La longueur totale de l’oiseau est de 0,170; l’aile mesure 0,090, la queue 0,880, le bec 0,018; le tarse 0,014. Dès 1889, en faisant une revision des Alcédinidés du Muséum en vue de leur instal- lation dans les nouvelles galeries, j’avais désigné ce Martin-pêcheur de Mangarewa sous le nom d” Halcyon Gambieri; mais je n’en avais pas publié la description jusqu’à ce jour.” [1]


For a long time, there has been a kingfisher in the galleries of the Museum who was brought back in 1841 from Mangarewa (Gambier Archipelago) by the Astrolabe (Journey to the South Pole) and who exactly corresponds to the description and the figure of Halcyon Reichenbachi. This bird has the top of the head red that brightens to yellowish white on the side of the forehead but is quite intense on the vertex where some green feathers stand out. On the ears there is also, on each side a green patch, passing blackish back and tending to join a black band that goes around the occiput. This dark band has a large white necklace on top, a little dirty with a few black spots, which is melting on the sides into the white hue that covers all the lower parts of the body, only the flanks offering a little russet and are, on some points, hidden entirely by the wings. These are a slightly bluish green, with very fine red rims at the edge of the wing coverts. The tail is also bluish green in the middle, of a green mixed with greyish under the outer feathers, which are also incomplete. Lastly, the beak is black, and the mandible underneath is white or rather yellowish throughout its base portion. The legs are of a dark brown. The total length of the bird is 0,170; the wing measures 0,090, the tail 0,880, the beak 0,018; Tarsus 0,014. As early as 1889, by making a revision of the Alcedinidae of the Museum with a view to their installation in the new galleries, I had designated this kingfisher of Mangarewa under the name of Halcyon Gambieri; but I had not published the description so far.


What I am wondering about most is the fact that the Mangareva – and the Niau Kingfishers still are regarded to as a single species; on the other hand, both forms are rather similar to each other.

Which of the many other Polynesian islands might once have harbored their own kingfisher forms not known to us today?


… just a sketch, but with colors


[1] M. E. Oustalet: Les Mammifères et les oiseaux des iles Mariannes. Nouvelles archives du Muséum d’histoire naturelle 3(7): 141-228. 1895
[2] D. T. Holyoak; J. C. Thibault: Halcyon gambieri gambieri Oustalet, an extinct Kingfisher from Mangareva, South Pacific Ocean. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club 97(1): 21-23. 1977


edited: 08.08.2021

More bullshit from David Peters’ Website – The jabiru: a long-legged kingfisher, not a stork

This abomination was created by David Peters on October 24, 2017 and I have no words to describe how much it hurts reading that stuff!

The jabiru: a long-legged kingfisher, not a stork

Or maybe kingfishers (genus: Megaceryle, Fig. 1) are just neotonous [sic] (juvenile-like) jabirus (genus: Jabiru, Figs. 2, 3). Certainly the jabiru, with its solid beak, ventrally convex jawline and high small naris, are not like other storks.

Well, has he ever looked at other storks?

Megaceryle alcyon (Linneaus [sic] 1758), the extant belted kingfisher, had an enlarged beak on an enlarged skull with a shorter neck. As in parrots, by convergence, the nares have migrated back to the orbit.

Since this species is still extant it did not had, it has …, and all kingfishers have enlarged beaks on enlarged skulls and shorter necks ….

Jabiru mycteria (Lichtenstein 1819) was a stork-like kingfisher nesting between the stilt/hummingbird clade and the murre/penguin clade (what variety!) Note the high small naris on the ventrally convex rostrum, as in the belted kingfisher.

That is the part that really hurts, the Jabiru is a perfect stork, and the photo DP has chosen to show on his website shows one that has his legs covered in its own feces – something that all storks do to cool down their body temperature, kingfishers, however, don’t … and a stilt/hummingbird- or a murre/penguin clade does not exist ….

If this turns out to be a case of convergence, and it might… that will come with the addition of more taxa. We’ll see…

This is the only time DP mentions convergence, a concept that he usually doesn’t seem to understand … yep, if two species share a similar way of life they may have more or less identical adaptions to that lifestyle (for example: everything that’s living in the water has some fins or flukes of some kind …).

So, in fact, DP says that the Jabiru must be a kingfisher because – and only because – of its beak! He doesn’t think about the hundreds of other features that this species doesn’t have in common with kingfishers but firmly clings to this one – a beak adapted to catch wiggly prey. Wow!

Like already said before, having outlandish ideas is okay, promoting them as being the one and only truth is insane!


To show you what we talk about here, here are some photographs of the bird species mentioned in the post.:

Jabiru (Jabiru mycteria (Lichtenstein))

Photo: Bernard Dupont
Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon (L.))

Photo: Andy Morffew


BTW: There is even a so-called Stork-billed Kingfisher (Pelargopsis capensis (L.)), a species that DP probably never has heard of, otherwise he probably would have chosen this one for his “strange suggestions”.

Stork-billed Kingfisher (Pelargopsis capensis (L.))

Photo: Lip Kee


edited: 31.07.2021 

Todiramphus ‘divinus’ – The ‘Divine’ Kingfisher

Two species of Kingfishers were common on Bora-Bora (Halcyon veneratus and Todiramphus tutus), ….


This species is fairly common, especially on the island of Bora-Bora.

Common throughout the Tahiti group.
” [2]


These two rather cursory marginal notes from 1907 are an indication of the former existence of a bird species that no longer exists today and of which (almost) no trace can be found today. 


The Society Islands are one of the very few places where two kingfisher species coexist, at least on the islands of Mo’orea and Tahiti in the eastern part of the archipelago; here you will find the widespread Chattering Kingfisher (Todiramphus tutus (Gmelin)), which occurs throughout the archipelago, as well as the Tahiti Kingfisher (Todiramphus veneratus (Gmelin)) and Moorea Kingfisher (Todiramphus youngi Sharpe), both restricted to a single island each. 

However, the two references to the island of Bora Bora indicate that this was apparently also the case on other of the islands. 

In fact, the mysterious kingfisher is not only known from small marginal notes but from at least two specimens that were collected at the beginning of the 19th century, one of which apparently still exists. This sole surviving specimen was examined in 2008 and compared to the Tahiti- and Moorea Kingfisher. 

The authors concluded that this is an incompletely colored juvenile of the Tahitian species, but also note some differences, including a much shorter beak and some differences in plumage pattern, and conclude that it may also be an extinct subspecies. [3] 

The species has also been depicted at least once (see below). [1] 


Between Bora Bora in the northwestern part of the archipelago and Mo’orea and Tahiti in the eastern part are four other islands, namely Huahine, Mai’ao, Ra’iatea and Taha’a, each of which, at least today, is inhabited only by the Chattering Kingfisher. 

If the island of Bora Bora was indeed once home to two species of kingfishers, then this bird must not have been a subspecies of the Tahitian Kingfisher, but a separate species; and, the other islands between Bora Bora and Mo’orea and Tahiti must most likely also have harbored now extinct and unknown distinct species. 


In my humble opinion, however, the location of Bora Bora is simply an error, and the two birds collected there are more likely to be from the island of Tahiti. … but who knows ….


‘Divine’ Kingfisher (Todiramphus ‘divinus’)

Depiction from: ‘M. Lesson: Description du genre Todiramphe et de deux espèces d’oiseaux; qui le compossent. Mémoires de la Société d’Histoire naturelle de Paris 2(3): 419-422. 1827’

(public domain)



[1] M. L. I. Duperrey: Voyage autour du monde: Exécuté par Ordre du Roi, Sur la Corvette de Sa Majesté, La Coquille, pendant les années 1822, 1823, 1824, et 1825, par M. L. I. Duperrey; Zoologie, par Mm. Lesson et Garnot. Paris: Arthus Bertrand 1828
[2] S. B. Wilson: Notes on birds of Tahiti and the Society group. Ibis Ser. 9(1): 373-379. 1907
[3] Claire Voisin; Jean-François Voisin: List of type specimens of birds in the collections of the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle (Paris, France). 18. Coraciiformes. Journal of the National Museum (Prague), Natural History Series 177(1): 1-25. 2008 
[4] Justin J. F. J. Jansen & Roland E. van der Vliet: The chequered history of the Chattering Kingfisher Todiramphus on Tahiti: I: type specimens. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club 135(2): 108-120. 2015
[5] Justin J. F. J. Jansen & Roland E. van der Vliet: The chequered history of the Chattering Kingfisher Todiramphus on Tahiti: II: review of status. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club 135(2): 121-130. 2015
[6] Michael Lee & David T. Holyoak: The chequered history of Chattering Kingfisher Todiramphus tutus on Tahiti: a response. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club 137(3): 211-217. 2017 
[7] Roland E. van der Vliet & Justin J. F. J. Jansen: Reply to Lee & Holyoak: how definite are 20th-cetury reports of Chattering Kingfisher Todiramphus tutus from Tahiti? Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club 137(3): 218-225. 2017


edited: 06.07.2023

Was there once a Giant Kingfisher living on the Fiji Islands?

The Collared Kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris (Boddaert)) has a extremely wide distribution and occurs from parts of Arabia well into western Polynesia; it is the only kingfisher living on the Fiji Islands (with three endemic subspecies) – yet, may there once have been another kingfisher species?

Collared Kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris ssp. vitiensis)

Photo: Tom Tarrant

Rollo H. Beck, an American ornithologist, quotes some notes that he received by a Mr. G. T. Barker on June 5, 1925, during a stay on the island of Viti Levu, Fiji: ‘Notes by Mr. G. T. Barker, Suva, Fiji. June 5, 1925’.:

Giant Kingfisher

I saw this bird, or a single bird at least, on two occasions and it rose, both times, from nearly the same place. On the last occasion, I was on the lookout for it and it passed within twenty feet in front of me so that I had a good opportunity to see it clearly. I was riding down from the village of Navuniwi, Viti Levu Bay, toward the beach and it was from a patch of swampy ground on my left that the bird arose.
The kingfisher was fully eleven inches long, with the same colored plumage as the small kind only more dingy. The blue was not so bright, and the white feathers on the wings were discolored. The back was nearly black. Its flight was heavy-much slower than that of the small species, and as it flew in a straight line toward the mangrove swamp on my right, I noticed that it held its head in a line with the shoulders.
Natives told me that these giant kingfishers were plentiful in the early days, but as the bird nested in the low mangrove, it has practically disappeared since the advent of the mongoose which is a vertitable beach comber, haunting the swamps and beaches. About twenty-five years previously I had seen one of them back of Ovalau, but was told that it was only stray in that part.
On the second occasion of my seeing the giant flycatcher
 [indeed, he writes flycatcher here instead of kingfisher], I dismounted from my horse and went into the swampy patch, finding that the bird had been eating the native sila (Job’s tears) [Coix lacryma-jobi (L.) Lam.].

Ordinary Flycatcher

It is generally supposed that this bird is an insect eater, and does not eat fish, but this is not invariably so. As I was coming out of the Wainidoi River, ten miles below Suva, I saw a belo
 [Pacific Reef Heron (Egretta sacra (Gmelin))] fishing in shallow water, and getting close up, noticed that it had a kingfisher in company. Three times I saw the kingfisher dive into the shallow water after shrimps, then fly onto a rock to eat them.” [1]

So, what’s this somewhat strange account about?

There is indeed a possibility that the large Fijian Islands once harbored more than one kingfisher species, however, this particular account here pretty sure refers to the Collared Kingfisher, with the small species mentioned being the European Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis (L.)).

The whole account is expressed a bit unhappily, and this Mr. G. T. Barker very likely wasn’t a naturalist at all, that becomes very clear when he later also descibes a hummingbird that he had killed on the Fijian Island, and which in fact has been a honeyeater (Myzomela jugularis Peale) (his description, however, does not fully match that species, but that is another story ….).   



[1] Whitney South Sea Expedition of the American Museum of Natural History. Extracts from the journal of Rollo H. Beck. Vol. 2, Dec. 1923 – Aug. 1925


edited: 13.03.2020

Blog moving – and, to celebrate the day … a Common Kingfisher

The blog has moved, again, I hope this time it will be for good ….

I wanted to take a break from the strenuous work of logging on, uploading, and, and, and with two small trips outside to freak out relax and freshen up when suddenly this little colorful thing flew in front of my cell phone lens.

The cell phone photo of course was completely useless, so I decided to go back home, catch my camera and to try my luck … maybe the little bird might come back?

It did indeed. 😛

The bird, apparently a female, as can be seen by its red colored lower mandible, was sitting amongst the willow shrubs along the local flood ditch.

The place where I photographed the kingfisher is quite busy, and of course various passers-by had to check what I was probably doing there … hm, of course none of them could see what I saw.


The bird is surprisingly well camouflaged due to its small size alone, in addition, most people are completely nature-blind anyway, thus miss al the little treasures surrounding us.


edited: 29.01.2020