Schlagwort-Archive: Coraciiformes

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?


[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


… just a sketch, but with colors


edited: 08.08.2021

Protornis glarniensis von Meyer

Motmots, wegen ihrer gezähnten Schnabelkanten auch Sägeracken genannt, sind heute mit einigen Arten in Süd- und vor allem Zentralamerika verbreitet, alle Arten sind ausgesprochen farbenfroh.

Diese bislang älteste bekannte Art war offenbar kleiner als die kleinste der heute lebenden Motomot-Arten (sie erreicht in meiner Rekonstruktion eine Größe von nur etwa 13 cm, abhängig von der Länge der Schwanzfedern).


verglichen mit heutigen Arten hatte diese einen verhältnismäßig langen Tarsometatarsus (Fußknochen)


bearbeitet: 02.04.2021

Fossil record of bird Coraciiformes

Family incertae sedis

Paracoracias occidentalis Clarke et al.

Quasisyndactylus longibrachis Mayr

Ueekenkcoracias tambussiae Degrange, Diego Pol, Pablo Puerta & Peter Wilf [1]


Halcyoninae gen. & sp. ‘Riversleigh, Australia’


Eurystomus beremendensis Kessler

Miocoracias chenevali
 Mourer-Chauviré, Peyrouse & Hugueney


Eocoracias brachyptera Mayr & Mourer-Chauviré


Geranopterus alatus Milne-Edwards
Geranopterus bohemicus Mlikovský
Geranopterus milneedwardsi Mayr & Mourer-Chauviré


Merops radobojensis (Meyer)


Momotidae gen. & sp. ‘Florida, USA’

Protornis glarniensis
 von Meyer (?)


Primobucco frugilegus Mayr & Mourer-Chauviré
Primobucco mcgrewi Brodkorb
Primobucco perneri Mayr & Mourer-Chauviré

Septencoracias morsensis
 Bourdon et al.


Palaeotodus emryi Olson
Palaeotodus escampsiensis Mourer-Chauviré
Palaeotodus itardiensis Mourer-Chauviré



[1] Federico J. Degrange; Diego Pol; Pablo Puerta; Peter Wilf: Unexpected larger distribution of paleogene stem-rollers (AVES, CORACII): new evidence from the Eocene of Patagonia, Argentina. Scientific Reports 11: 1363. 2021


edited: 15.01.2021

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

(under creative commons license (3.0))

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

A kingfisher-like bird from Messel – Quasisyndactylus longibrachis Mayr

This tiny bird is thought to be the ancestor of the kingfishers or of the todies, or of both.

Quasisyndactylus longibrachis was very small, only about 10 cm long, its legs were quite long, very much like in today’s todies (Todidae) and its feet were syndactyl (that means two of the toes, toes 3 and 4, are fused together), like those of all known Coraciiformes showing that it was a member of that order.

The species is known from several specimens, some of which also still harbor their feathering, showing that this species had rather roundish wings and a rather long tail.



[1] G. Mayr: „Coraciiforme“ und „piciforme“ Kleinvögel aus dem Mittel-Eozän der Grube Messel (Hessen, Deutschland). Courier Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg, Band 205. 1998


Photo: Ghedoghedo

(under creative commons license (3.0))


my reconstruction, following a specimen with well preserved feathers; it’s only a sketch so far


edited: 05.11.2019; 06.11.2019

Adanson’s – and Latreille’s Bee-eaters

Here I want to write a bit about two enigmatic birds that allegedly both were collected in Africa at the beginning of the 19th century; these are Adanson’s Bee-eater and Latreille’s Bee-eater.


Adanson’s Bee-eater (Merops adansonii)

Depictions from: „François Le Vaillant: Histoire naturelle des promerops, et des guêpiers: faisant suite à celle des oiseaux de paradis par la même. A Paris, chez denné le jeune, Libraire, Rue Vivienne, N° 10. 1807“ 

(public domain)

Adanson’s Bee-eater is an enigmatic bird known only from a single specimen which is commonly thought to have been an artificially specimen, assembled from several bird parts, a practice that was rather common in these olden days when collectors were keen to have in their collections the most rare exhibition pieces.

The following French texts are all from François Le Vaillant, they describe this ’species‘ and give us some additional information about its wehereabouts. [1]

Ce guêpier à queue en flèche ayant été méconnu par Buffon qui l’a, donné comme une simple variété de climat de son guêpier marron et bleu, ou de l’Isle-de-France, espèce que nous avons décrite dans notre précédent n°, sous la dénomination de guêpier Latreille, nous avons dû encore lui donner un nom distinctif, et nous ne pouvions à cet égard mieux faire, je pense, que de choisir celui du célebre voyageur qui l’ayant rapporté du Sénégal, l’a le premier fait connoître en Europe. Il suffira, je pense, de comparer les figures exactes que nous avons publiées de ces deux oiseaux, pour être d’abord et du premier coup-d’œil convaincu de la méprise de Buffon à leur égard, et être persuadé enfin qu’ils forment deux espèces très distinctes, bien loin de n’être l’un qu’une variété de l’autre; on ne conçoit même pas, en voyant les figures qui représentent dans les planches enluminées de Buffon ces deux oiseaux, l’un sous le nom de guêpier de l’Isle-de-France, n° 252, et l’autre, n° 314, sous celui de guêpier à longue queue du Sénégal, comment il a été possible de commettre cette erreur, et encore moins qu’elle ait été perpétuée par tous les ornithologistes qui ont écrit sur les oiseaux depuis Buffon. On conçoit en effet d’autant moins cette méprise, que ces deux figures, d’ailleurs très mauvaises , different bien plus l’une de l’autre encore, que ne différent réellement ces deux oiseaux eux-mêmes entre eux, mais assez cependant pour être bien sûr qu’ils ne peuvent être confondus ensemble comme appartenant à une seule et même espèce.


This spiny-tailed bee-eater was ignored by Buffon who gave it as a simple climate variety of its brown and blue bee-eater, or Isle-de-France [bee-eater], a species that we described in our previous issue. Under the denomination of Latreille, we have had to give it a distinctive name, and we could not, in this respect, have done better, I suppose, than the guide of the traveler who brought it back from Senegal, the first to make it known in Europe. It will suffice, I think, to compare the exact figures which we have published of these two birds, to be first and for the first glance convinced of Buffon’s mistake with regard to them, and to be finally persuaded that they form two very distinct species, far from being one variety of the other; it is not even conceivable, seeing the figures which represent, in the bright plates of Buffon, these two birds, one under the name of the Isle-de-France bee-eater, No. 252, and the other, No. 314, under that of long-tailed bee-eater from Senegal, how it was possible to make this mistake, let alone that it has been perpetuated by all the ornithologists who have written about birds since Buffon. This misunderstanding is all the less so conceived, that these two figures, which are, moreover, very bad, differ much more from one another than the two birds themselves really differ from one another, but enough, however, to be sure that they can not be confused as belonging to one and the same species.

So, in short, these two birds were originally thought to be specifically identical, what they of course are not.


Le guêpier Adanson est d’un tiers au moins plus fort que le guêpier Latreille, ainsi qu’on peut le voir d’ailleurs, en comparant les portraits de grandeur naturelle que nous en avons donné: il a le front ceint d’un large bandeau bleu qui, se prolongeant au-dessus des yeux, couvre les joues, les côtés et tout le devant du cou, la poitrine, et enfin tout le dessous du corps, en y comprenant les couvertures siqjéricures et inférieures de la queue, et le croupion; mais ce bleu s’affoiblit toujours davantage à mesure qu’il approche du bas-ventre; le dessus de la tête, à partir du bleu du front, ainsi que le derrière du cou, le manteau, les scapulaires, toutes les couvertures des ailes, et même les pennes de ces dernières, ainsi que toutes celles de la queue, sont couleur marron; seulement la partie excédante des deux pennes prolongées de la queue, ainsi que le bout des premières pennes des ailes, sont noirâtres; et les dernières plumes des ailes, proche le dos, sont en partie du même bleu que celui du dessous du corps; le bec est noir; les pieds sont bruns rougeàtres. Nous ignorons la couleur des yeux, n’ayant vu que la dépouille de cet oiseau, que je n’ai rencontré dans aucune des parties de l’Afrique dans laquelle j’ai pénétré; je n’ai même vu de cette espèce que le seul individu qu’en avoit rapporté Adanson du Sénégal, où il l’avoit recueilli durant ses voyages.


The Adanson bee-eater is at least a third stronger than the Latreille bee-eater, as can be seen elsewhere, by comparing the life-size portraits we have given: it has at its forehead a blue band which, extending above the eyes, covers the cheeks, the sides and all the front of the neck, the chest, and finally the whole underbody, including the undertail coverts of the tail, and the rump; but this blue becomes more and more feeble as it approaches the lower abdomen; the top of the head, from the blue of the forehead, as well as the back of the neck, the mantle, the scapulars, all the coverts of the wings, and even the feathers of these, as well as those of the tail, are colored brown; only the exceeding part of the two elongated feathers of the tail, as well as the end of the first primaries of the wings, are blackish; and the last feathers of the wings, near the back, are partly of the same blue as that of the underbody; the bill is black; the feet are reddish brown. We are ignorant of the color of the eyes, having seen only the remains of this bird, which I have not met in any part of Africa into which I have penetrated; I have not even seen of this species the only individual who had been brought back from Adanson of Senegal, where he had collected it during his travels.

The author clearly states here that he did only see remains of this bird, but also that he did not see it at all, that is somewhat irritating to me.

But what was Adanson’s Bee-eater actually?

Well, the bird’s upper side looks almost exactly like that of the Southern Carmine Bee-eater (Merops nubicoides Des Mus & Pucheran) or the Northern Carmine Bee-eater (Merops nubicus Gmelin), the underside and forepart of the hea, however, come from another bird that, since the original specimen is now lost, will forever be unidentifiable.


Latreille’s Bee-eater (Merops latreillei)

Depictions from: „François Le Vaillant: Histoire naturelle des promerops, et des guêpiers: faisant suite à celle des oiseaux de paradis par la même. A Paris, chez denné le jeune, Libraire, Rue Vivienne, N° 10. 1807“ 

(public domain)

Latreille’s Bee-eater, of which I won’t give any text because it isn’t really necessary, is said in its description to come from the Isle-de-France, known today as Mauritius but being far more widespread all over Africa. This ’species‘ might actually have been a Rufous-crowned Bee-eater (Merops americanus Statius Müller) or a Blue-throated Bee-eater (Merops viridis L.), both exclusively from Asia by the way. Again, the colors won’t fit completely, so again some parts of other birds might have been added to the depicted specimen. That was apparently a quite common practice in former times, the more rare and unique a specimen was the higher was its price …. 

My personal conclusion is that both these ’species‘ never have existed.



[1] François Le Vaillant: Histoire naturelle des promerops, et des guêpiers: faisant suite à celle des oiseaux de paradis par la même. A Paris, chez denné le jeune, Libraire, Rue Vivienne, N° 10. 1807


edited: 05.11.2019

Palaeotodus emryi Olson

Dies ist nur eine Skizze eines Palaeotodus emryi, eines ziemlich großen Todi-Vorfahren aus dem frühen Oligozän von Wyoming, USA.    

Dieser fossile Todi war fast 50% größer und hatte wahrscheinlich einen etwas kürzeren Schnabel und größere Flügel als die noch lebenden Arten.    

Heute sind die Todies auf die Karibik beschränkt, wo fünf Arten, die alle mehr oder weniger gleich aussehen, auf Kuba, auf Hispaniola sowie auf Jamaika und Puerto Rico zu finden sind.    

Es ist sehr seltsam, wie wenig sich diese Vögel in den letzten 30 Millionen Jahren verändert haben. 


bearbeitet: 22.05.2018