Bird O'clock

Fascinating Facts About the Unique Brown-winged Kingfisher

The Brown-winged Kingfisher (Pelargopsis amauroptera) is a medium-sized bird found in Southeast Asia. Its distinctive features and beautiful plumage make it a favorite among bird enthusiasts.

In this article, we will delve deeper into the identification, plumages, and molts of this species.


Field Identification: The Brown-winged Kingfisher has a distinctive appearance that makes it easy to identify. It has a large, robust body with a prominent bill.

Its wingspan ranges from 28-34 cm, and weighs around 150-170 grams. The head and upperparts of the bird are a rich chestnut brown with a white collar around the neck.

The underparts of the bird are white with fine black bars, and the tail is bright blue with a white tip. Similar Species: The Brown-winged Kingfisher can be easily mistaken for other kingfisher species.

The Black-capped Kingfisher has a similar appearance but lacks the chestnut-brown coloration. The Stork-billed Kingfisher has a larger bill and is more often found near water bodies than the Brown-winged Kingfisher.


The Brown-winged Kingfisher displays sexual dimorphism, meaning that males and females have differing physical characteristics. The male has a chestnut-colored breast, while the female’s breast is white.

Immature birds have a brown back, head, and neck, with buff-colored, mottled underparts.


The Brown-winged Kingfisher undergoes a prebasic molt once a year, where it sheds and replaces its feathers. The molt usually occurs after the breeding season, and it takes approximately 3060 days for the molt to complete.

During the prebasic molt, the feathers are replaced one at a time, starting at the head and working down to the body and wings.


The Brown-winged Kingfisher is a stunning bird that is loved by bird enthusiasts all over the world. Its distinctive appearance and behavior make it easy to identify in the field.

Understanding the molts and plumages of this species can help birdwatchers differentiate between males, females, and juveniles. With its worldwide appeal, it is no wonder that the Brown-winged Kingfisher is a popular sighting among birdwatchers.

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Systematics History

The Brown-winged Kingfisher (Pelargopsis amauroptera) is a species of bird in the family Halcyonidae, which includes 90 species of kingfishers. The taxonomy of this bird has undergone numerous revisions since it was first described by the naturalist Edward Blyth in 1843.

It was initially believed to belong in the genus Alcedo, but later placed in the genus Halcyon before being assigned to Pelargopsis.

Geographic Variation

The Brown-winged Kingfisher is found in Southeast Asia, from eastern India to the Philippines and northern Borneo. There is considerable geographic variation in this species, with birds from different regions exhibiting distinct morphological and behavioral differences.

The birds from India and Sri Lanka are larger than those found in Southeast Asia, and they have darker plumage. The birds from the Philippines are smaller and have more iridescent blue-green upperparts than those found on the Asian mainland.


Currently, there are six recognized subspecies of the Brown-winged Kingfisher. These subspecies differ in their morphology, vocalizations, and behavior.

The subspecies are:

1. P.

a. amauroptera: Found in western and central Thailand, peninsular Malaysia, and Singapore.

This subspecies has a white collar around the neck, and the blue tail has a narrow white tip. 2.

P. a.

orientalis: Found in eastern Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. This subspecies has a narrower white collar than P.

a. amauroptera, and its blue tail has a broader white tip.

3. P.

a. propinqua: Found in eastern Myanmar, southern China, and Taiwan.

This subspecies has a broader white collar than the other subspecies, and the blue tail has a narrow white tip. 4.

P. a.

armstrongi: Found in Sri Lanka. This subspecies has darker plumage than P.

a. propinqua, and the blue tail has a wide white tip.

5. P.

a. insignis: Found in the Philippines.

This subspecies is smaller than the other subspecies, and the blue tail has a narrow white tip. 6.

P. a.

palawanensis: Found only in Palawan Island in the Philippines. This subspecies is similar to P.

a. insignis but has a narrower white collar and broader blue tail.

Related Species

The Brown-winged Kingfisher is closely related to other species of kingfishers within the genus Pelargopsis. These include the Stork-billed Kingfisher (Pelargopsis capensis), the White-throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis), and the Black-capped Kingfisher (Halcyon pileata).

Despite their similarities, these birds have subtle differences in their morphology, vocalizations, and behavior.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The Brown-winged Kingfisher’s distribution has undergone significant changes over the past century due to human activity. It has lost significant portions of its original habitat due to deforestation, pollution, and land conversion for agriculture and urbanization.

The species was once widespread in Singapore, but it disappeared from the island in the 1940s due to habitat loss and hunting. In Thailand, the population has declined due to the conversion of wetland habitats into rice paddies and urban areas.

The Sri Lankan subspecies, P. a.

armstrongi, has suffered a substantial population decline due to forest destruction and hunting, particularly for its feathers, which are used in traditional medicine. The subspecies was listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List in 2016.


The Brown-winged Kingfisher is a unique and fascinating species of kingfisher that exhibits considerable geographic variation across its range. Through careful observation and careful consideration of its taxonomy, we can appreciate its beauty and understand the importance of protecting its habitat to ensure its survival.

While human activity has led to significant changes in its distribution, there is still hope to preserve this species for future generations. of the article.


The Brown-winged Kingfisher (Pelargopsis amauroptera) is a species of bird that occupies a variety of habitats including wetlands, forests, and grasslands. It can also be found in mangrove swamps, scrublands, and coastal zones.

The exact habitat preferences of the Brown-winged Kingfisher vary depending on the subspecies and geographic location. In general, the species prefers to live near water bodies such as rivers, streams, and ponds.

It is particularly fond of freshwater habitats, and it can often be observed perched on low branches near the water waiting for its prey. The species is also known to inhabit areas with dense vegetation that provide cover and shelter.

Movements and Migration

The Brown-winged Kingfisher is mostly sedentary in nature, meaning that it does not undertake long-distance migrations. However, it may move within its range in response to changes in food availability or habitat quality.

Some local movements have been documented, particularly during the breeding season. In some regions, the Brown-winged Kingfisher may exhibit altitudinal movements.

For example, during the dry season, birds may move from higher elevations to lower elevations in search of water and food. During the breeding season, Brown-winged Kingfishers may move between breeding sites in search of suitable nesting locations and food resources.

There is limited information available on the migratory behavior of this species, although it has been reported in parts of its range. One study conducted in Thailand reported that Brown-winged Kingfishers were present year-round but were most abundant during the non-breeding season between November and January.

Another study conducted on birds in Sri Lanka reported that the species was present year-round but increased in abundance during the breeding season, suggesting that some local migration may occur. The Brown-winged Kingfisher is susceptible to habitat loss and degradation, which can impact its movements and migration patterns.

Human activities such as deforestation, land conversion, and wetland drainage can alter the availability and quality of its habitat, limiting its movements and reducing genetic diversity.


The Brown-winged Kingfisher is a sedentary species that may move within its range in response to changes in food availability or habitat quality. It is mostly found near water bodies and prefers freshwater habitats.

Limited information is available on the migratory behavior of the species, but some local movements have been observed during the breeding season.

Habitat loss and degradation due to human activities may impact the movements and migration patterns of the species, emphasizing the need for conservation efforts to preserve its natural habitat.

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Diet and Foraging

The Brown-winged Kingfisher (Pelargopsis amauroptera) is a carnivorous bird that feeds on a variety of prey including fish, amphibians, insects, crabs, small reptiles, and even small birds. It is an opportunistic forager and will feed on whatever prey is available in its habitat.

The Brown-winged Kingfisher is usually seen perched on low branches or posts, patiently waiting for its prey to come close. Once it spots prey in the water or on the ground, it quickly plunges into the water or makes a short aerial dive to capture it.

The species has a remarkable ability to adjust its feeding behavior depending on the prey’s location and behavior.


The Brown-winged Kingfisher has a specific diet depending on the habitat it occupies. In freshwater habitats, the species feeds primarily on fish, while in mangrove swamps, it feeds on crabs.

Insects, amphibians, and small reptiles are also commonly consumed by the species in different habitats. The species has a particular preference for small prey items, as they are easier to catch and digest.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

Birds have a high metabolic rate, and their ability to maintain their body temperature is essential for their survival. The Brown-winged Kingfisher is no exception and has several adaptations to regulate its body temperature.

Its high metabolic rate allows it to generate heat, and its feathers serve as insulation to keep the heat trapped in. The species also has a unique blood circulation system that allows it to regulate body heat.

The arteries that supply blood to the legs and feet are located next to the veins that return the cooled blood to the body, which helps to maintain body temperature.

Sounds and Vocal



Vocalization is essential to communication for birds, and the Brown-winged Kingfisher has a distinctive call that it uses to communicate with its mate and other birds in its territory. The species has a deep, resonant, and far-carrying call that resembles “king-ka-long” or “ki-wak”.

Both males and females of the species use this call, which can be heard from a considerable distance. Juvenile birds have a higher-pitched call that resembles a softer version of the adult call.

The species also uses other vocalizations for different purposes, such as warning calls to alert other birds of potential danger or when aggressively defending its territory. The Brown-winged Kingfisher is also capable of vocal mimicry, and it is known to mimic the calls of other bird species.

The Brown-winged Kingfisher’s vocalizations play an essential role in its territory defense and breeding behavior. It uses its vocal communication to attract mates, defend territories, and warn of potential threats.

The far-carrying call of the Brown-winged Kingfisher is a familiar sound to bird enthusiasts in its range, and its distinctive vocalizations add to this species’ charm.


The Brown-winged Kingfisher is a fascinating bird with unique adaptations that allow it to thrive in a variety of habitats. Its diet and foraging behavior are versatile, allowing it to adjust to different prey items depending on its habitat.

Its high metabolic rate and insulation properties help it regulate body temperature, while its distinctive vocalizations play a crucial role in communication and breeding behavior. Understanding the diet, foraging behavior, and vocalizations of the Brown-winged Kingfisher can help us to appreciate this bird’s beauty and understand the importance of conserving its habitat.

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The Brown-winged Kingfisher (Pelargopsis amauroptera) is a fascinating bird with distinctive behavioral traits that make it a favorite among bird enthusiasts. Its locomotion, self-maintenance, agonistic behavior, and sexual behavior are all unique aspects of its behavior.


The Brown-winged Kingfisher is well adapted to hunting in water and on land, and it displays unique locomotion behaviors to capture prey. When hunting for fish, the bird usually perches on a low branch or post near the water’s edge, waiting patiently for its prey to come close.

Once it spots its prey in the water, the Brown-winged Kingfisher makes a swift dive into the water to capture it. The bird also has a unique behavior known as a “hover-dive,” where it hovers above the water for a few seconds before plunging.

This behavior allows the bird to surprise its prey, making it more successful in hunting.


Like all birds, the Brown-winged Kingfisher devotes a significant amount of time to self-maintenance behavior. The bird preens its feathers regularly, using its bill and tongue to spread oil on the feathers, realign the barbs, and remove any dirt or debris.

The bird also takes regular dust baths to rid itself of parasites and to clean its feathers. Agonistic


The Brown-winged Kingfisher is known to display agonistic behavior, particularly during the breeding season when competition for resources is high.

When defending its territory, the bird frequently engages in aerial chases and aggressive displays towards intruders. It also uses vocalizations to warn off potential competitors.



During the breeding season, the Brown-winged Kingfisher exhibits sexual behavior to attract mates and establish breeding territories. The male is known to perform a courtship display, which involves calling, head bobbing, and tail-shaking.

The female Brown-winged Kingfisher chooses her mate based on these courtship displays and the availability of sufficient resources in the territory.


The Brown-winged Kingfisher generally breeds once a year, building its nest in a tree hole, usually near water. During the breeding season, the male actively defends the territory, while the female incubates the eggs.

The clutch size typically ranges from 4 to 6 eggs, which are incubated for around 20 days. After hatching, the chicks are fed by both parents until they fledge after around 22-24 days.

Demography and Populations

The Brown-winged Kingfisher is not considered a globally threatened species, but its populations are declining in some parts of its range due to habitat loss, pollution, and hunting. The species is protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) as well as by national laws in several countries.

As with many bird species, population data is limited for the Brown-winged Kingfisher, but some studies suggest that populations in certain areas have declined. For example, a study of the species in Thailand found that the population had declined by an estimated 38% over a 10-year period.

In Sri Lanka, the subspecies P. a.

armstrongi is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List due to habitat loss and hunting.


The Brown-winged Kingfisher is a fascinating bird species with distinctive behavioral traits that make it special. Its unique locomotion, self-maintenance, agonistic behavior, and sexual behavior are all notable aspects of its behavior, while its breeding biology highlights the importance of resource availability in breeding territories.

The declining populations of the Brown-winged Kingfisher serve as a reminder of the importance of conservation efforts to protect the species and its habitat. After discussing the Brown-winged Kingfisher, it is clear that this species is a unique and fascinating bird.

The article highlights various aspects of the species such as its identification, plumages, molt, systematics history, geographic variation, subspecies, diet, foraging, and breeding biology. The Brown-winged Kingfisher’s unique behaviors, such as its hunting methods and self-maintenance, along with its vocalizations and agonistic behaviors, make it a favorite among bird enthusiasts.

Additionally, the article emphasizes the importance of conserving the habitat of the Brown-winged Kingfisher to ensure its survival given declining populations in some parts of its range. In conclusion, the Brown-winged Kingfisher serves as a beautiful example of the importance of preserving our planet’s biodiversity and the unique behavioral adaptations that aid in its survival.

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