Bird O'clock

Unveiling the Enigmatic Banded Kingfisher: The Extraordinary Life of Southeast Asia’s Most Striking Bird

The Banded Kingfisher, scientifically known as Lacedo pulchella, is an enigmatic bird species that belongs to the kingfisher family. It is distributed in the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia, including Indonesia and Malaysia.


The Banded Kingfisher is a unique bird with a striking appearance. It has a distinctive black and white banded pattern on its head, flanks, and underparts.

Its crown is black, and its nape is bluish-gray. It has a bright red bill and eyes, which stand out against its dark feathers.

The wings and tail are bluish-green, and the legs are red.



The Banded Kingfisher is a relatively large bird, measuring around 22-25cm in length, and has a wingspan of 27-34cm.

It has a stocky build, and its wings are broad and rounded. It perches upright on branches or hangs beneath them, waiting for prey.

The Banded Kingfisher is a shy bird, and it is often difficult to approach closely, making it a challenging bird to see in the wild.

Similar Species

The Banded Kingfisher can be confused with some other species, including the Blue-banded Kingfisher, which has a similar black and white banding pattern on its underparts and a bluish-green head. However, the Blue-banded Kingfisher has a distinct blue band across its chest and lacks the red bill and legs of the Banded Kingfisher.

Another similar species is the Maroon-breasted Philentoma. Though it is a flycatcher, its reddish-orange breast pattern and blue-grey head might be confusing to bird watchers in the same habitat, insofar as they are not clearly distinguishing the details towards the rear of the bird.


The Banded Kingfisher has an adult and juvenile plumage. Juvenile birds have dark bills and are duller in color.

Females tend to have a broader black band on the upper breast and rarely have a blue-grey only around their heads. The young kingfishers tend to darken over two moults phases to lose their down feathers before reaching their mature plumage.


The Banded Kingfisher molts once during the year, which typically occurs after the breeding season. During the molting, the birds shed their old feathers and grow new ones.

Molting can take around three months or more, and during this time, the bird may become less active and withdraw to a quieter area. It is important to note that behavior and plumage during molt can cause confusion in field identification, such as having disheveled feathers or an against the color feathers.


Bird species, like the Banded Kingfisher, add intrigue to our natural world’s diversity. They offer unique insights into ecosystems and can be beautiful birds to admire in both captivity and their respective habitats.

It is essential to study the species to appreciate the nuance found within them and to identify them correctly in the field.

Systematics History

The Banded Kingfisher, Lacedo pulchella, belongs to the kingfisher family, also known as Alcedinidae. This family is composed of around 90 genera and 223 species worldwide.

The Banded Kingfisher is placed in the subfamily Halcyoninae, which consists of 70 species across 19 genera. It was first described by John Latham in 1801, who designated it as Alcedo pulchella.

Geographic Variation

The Banded Kingfisher is distributed across a relatively broad geographic range, spanning from the Malay Peninsula to the western part of New Guinea. Within this range, researchers have noted significant variations in physical characteristics, such as size and coloration.

The differences are more pronounced in males than in females, as male birds typically exhibit more striking colors and color patterns.


Based on these geographic variations, the Banded Kingfisher has been subdivided into four subspecies. It is essential to note that one study suggests that these are phylogenetically not supported and only spatially identified.

The four subspecies are:

– Lacedo pulchella subspecies saturata: This subspecies is found in the southern part of Indochina and the Malay Peninsula. It has a darker coloration than other subspecies.

– Lacedo pulchella subspecies pulchella: This subspecies is the most widespread and is found across the Sunda Shelf and Sumatra up to southern Thailand to Singapore and its surrounding islands.

– Lacedo pulchella subspecies amethystina: This subspecies is found in southern Borneo and Bangka Island.

It is lighter in coloration than other subspecies, with a slight lavender tint. – Lacedo pulchella subspecies melanops: This subspecies is found in western Papua and in the Vogelkop Peninsula.

It is the smallest subspecies, has a weaker bill compared to other subspecies, and has a rust-red area on its underbelly.

Related Species

The Banded Kingfisher is most genetically related to two other bird species: the Shining-blue Kingfisher and Van Hasselt’s Sunbird. Unlike the Banded Kingfisher, the Shining-blue Kingfisher lacks the distinctive black and white banded pattern on its underparts and has a bluish-green tint to its head and tail feathers.

In contrast, Van Hasselt’s Sunbird is not a kingfisher but rather a species of sunbird. Despite this, its geographic range overlaps with that of the Banded Kingfisher across parts of Indonesia.

Historical Changes to Distribution

Over time, the distribution of the Banded Kingfisher has undergone significant changes. Historical records from the early 20th century suggest that the birds were widespread across their current range, but population decline has been observed.

Forest clearing, habitat loss, and fragmentation, as well as poaching, have all contributed to declines in the species.


The Banded Kingfisher is currently classified as “Near Threatened” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The listing is based on the decline in population size and the loss of habitat.

Conservation efforts are in place in some countries, such as Indonesia, where the species is legally protected. Some specific conservation measures being taken to protect the Banded Kingfisher include:


Habitat Restoration: Efforts are being made to restore degraded forest habitats to provide suitable conditions for the birds. These efforts include planting native vegetation and providing nest boxes.

2. Protected Areas: Creating protected areas for the Banded Kingfisher and other threatened species in the same habitat.

These protected areas are essential for the conservation of biodiversity and help to maintain ecosystems. 3.

Education and Awareness: Education and awareness raising campaigns target local communities about the value of biodiversity in their communities. This helps to reduce negative activities on the birds.

In conclusion, studies on the Banded Kingfisher provide valuable insights into the variability and conservation ramifications due to the bird’s distributional history. By understanding the systematics of the species, its geographic variation, the subspecies present, and the broader ecological context, conservation measures and policies can target and mitigate potential threats to the Banded Kingfisher populations.


The Banded Kingfisher is a bird of lowland rainforests in tropical Southeast Asia and Indonesia, where it occurs in primary and secondary forests, forest edges, and along forest streams. The bird favors dense forests with large emergent trees, which provide suitable nesting sites.

In their range, they are commonly found near swamps, rivers, and riparian habitats, often close to settlements and roads that offer a human-made habitat of prey. The bird’s habitat is under threat from human activities such as deforestation and land conversion, posing a significant risk to its continued existence in the wild.

Movements and Migration

The Banded Kingfisher tends to be a non-migratory bird that moves only when necessary, such as the movement of breeding pairs to locate appropriate nesting sites and during molting. The bird is considered a sedentary species, meaning that it mostly remains in an area rather than moving to different locations throughout the year.

However, some limited movements are reported, depending on habitat and food resources’ availability. Still, the details regarding the distances and duration of movements are not clear.


Banded Kingfishers reach sexual maturity at around one year of age.

Breeding season varies by location, with breeding pairs beginning to form between January and May across their range. Nests consist of a cluster of three to five buffalo-horned leaves, placed into the fork of a horizontal branch and fitted with a soft cap made of lichen and moss.

The breeding pair work together to construct the nest, and the female typically lays 2-3 eggs, which she incubates for around 19-21 days. The male may help feed the female during incubation and brooding.

During the nesting period, the pair may defend their territory with aggressive noises toward the intruders of their territory. After hatching, the chicks are brooded continuously for the first 10 to 12 days and remain in the nest for approximately 24 days before fledging, learning to fly and feed themselves.


The Banded Kingfisher is carnivorous, and its diet mainly consists of frogs, insects, lizards, and small mammals. It has a distinctive hunting technique, relying on one target prey, then darting into it from a stationary position.

They hunt mostly from different perches, from which they keep a lookout for prey, and then fly rapidly to retrieve the prey. Banded Kingfishers have been known to slam prey against a tree branch or ledge before eating it, which may be a way of ensuring the prey is incapacitated and easier to swallow.


The Banded Kingfisher populations are considered to be declining, and it is currently classified as “Near Threatened” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Deforestation, forest fragmentation, and poaching are significant threats to the bird’s habitat and populations.

Pressure from the increasingly illegal wildlife trade also affects the Banded Kingfisher species, with the bird being trapped and exported for trade purposes.

To conserve the Banded Kingfisher, several conservation efforts have been put in place, including habitat restoration, legal protection for the species, protected areas, monitoring their populations, and raising awareness among local communities.

In some places, nest boxes have been installed to support breeding attempts. These efforts are fundamental, positively impacting the conservation of the birds and their habitat.


The Banded Kingfisher is a remarkable bird species that deploys an efficient hunting technique to capture prey. Their adaptability to different habitats and protection exerted over the years in some locations has assisted in surviving as a species.

However, habitat modification and altered biodiversity pose a severe threat to the conservation of the bird. The attention given to conservation and Banded Kingfisher habitat protection is, therefore, essential to the species’ continued existence.

The exact movements and migration of the bird is still uncertain, requiring further research to inform conservation strategies.

Diet and Foraging

The Banded Kingfisher is a bird of prey that belongs to the Alcedinidae family. Its diet primarily comprises insects, small reptiles, snails, and small mammals.

The bird uses a waiting-and-hunting technique, perching on a branch or a tree before quickly darting towards its prey, usually with a single swoop, to capture it. This technique is crucial in the bird’s survival in its habitat, where it is surrounded by dense vegetation that limits visibility.

The Banded Kingfisher foraging method is regarded as a common range, consistently foraging from treetops and branches.


Kingfishers are known for displaying an aggressive territorial defense behavior, known as “kleptoparasitism,” they ambush an intruder and take its catch. In some areas, snake species may also prey on Banded kingfishers.

After capturing prey, the bird beats the prey against the branch or tree, causing the prey’s death, making it easier to consume. The bird is known to swallow small prey whole and to break down larger prey such as lizards into smaller segments before eating them.

Kingfishers also regurgitate indigestible material, known as “pellets,” which contain undigested parts of their food, including fur, bones, and insect exoskeletons.


The Banded Kingfisher’s diet exhibits considerable variation regionally, seasonally, and even within different microhabitats in the range. In Southeast Asia, the Banded Kingfisher’s diet mainly consists of insects, including grasshoppers, beetles, dragonflies, ants, flies, and moths.

Small vertebrates form a more significant part of their diet in mainland Southeast Asia’s forested habitats, which includes small mammals, snakes, lizards, and frogs. The bird has also been reported to consume invertebrates such as crabs and shrimps found in the streams and rivers in which they reside.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

The Banded Kingfisher is an endothermic (warm-blooded) bird which maintains a high metabolic rate to regulate their internal temperature. The bird regulates its body temperature through a mechanism called “panting”; this process involves rapid breathing, which helps to cool down the body during hot weather.

The Banded Kingfisher’s feathers prevent the vital loss of heat through insulation, which is created by their feathers’ arrangement. The arrangement of feathers also helps birds to maintain an optimal body temperature.

This arrangement allows birds to trap air for insulation, creating a boundary against the environment.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior

Bird vocalizations play a central role in bird communication, including attracting mates, advertisement, and defense against intruders. Though the Banded Kingfisher is known for being a solitary bird species, it occasionally communicates with its mate through a series of sonar calls to which it responds.

Vocalization is more commonly demonstrated upon territorial invasion, and the birds may interrupt courtship activity to defend their territory.


Banded Kingfishers are known for their unique vocalizations and display different sounds of excited, alarmed, or aggressive behavior. They use a variety of sounds to convey different messages, from calls to rattles, rasp, and clicks.

Elzner identified two major vocalizations (1) The “La” call, also known as the advertisement call, commonly given repeatedly during morning and evening hours. (2)The “terrr-er-wirr” is a call primarily used to defend their territory.

Different sounds have different durations and patterns of repetition, which might signal their intent, location and reveal a change in behavior.


The Banded Kingfisher is a fascinating bird species known for its unique vocalizations, diet, and adaptable foraging methods. Its foraging technique is an essential aspect in terms of survival in their environment.

It spends much of its time perched in a range of forest habitats, mainly waiting for prey. It also marks its territory through the use of vocalizations and body language techniques, including aggressive territorial defense.

Protective measures must be implemented for the Banded Kingfisher habitats and its conservation, given the challenges faced due to habitat destruction. Expanding research on the physiology and behavior of Banded Kingfisher would provide clues on conservation management approaches and reinforce measures for species recovery.



The Banded Kingfisher engages in different forms of locomotion. They can fly for long periods, gliding down to trees to land or survey the ground below before darting back up to another perching location.

The bird typically uses short, fast movements to fly in between resting or perching locations, hence its name “kingfisher.” It is also capable of hopping and walking along the ground or on tree branches. The birds wings are broad, allowing it to fly at great speeds to catch prey while also making rapid changes in direction.

Self Maintenance

Like many bird species, the Banded Kingfisher regularly engages in self-maintenance behaviors, such as bathing, grooming feathers, and preening. These routines help the bird to stay clean, healthy, and free of parasites.

During self-maintenance, the birds use their bills to clean feathers, aligning the vane structure to ensure their wings remain aerodynamic. They also use their bills to remove lice, parasites, and mites, ensuring their feathers remain clean.

This behavior is crucial for their survival, enabling them to hunt prey effectively and avoid dangerous infestations.

Agonistic Behavior

Banded Kingfishers are territorial birds, and they use various display methods to communicate ownership of their territory to intruders. Agonistic behavior, including aggressive displays and calls, is used during territorial disputes between males or in the presence of competition for habitat spaces.

Sexual Behavior

During breeding season, the Banded Kingfishers sexual behavior differs from its regular behavior, with the formation of monogamous breeding pairs.

Breeding pairs engage in courtship displays, displaying their characteristic vocalizations and posturing. The breeding pair works together in constructing their nest, requiring each partner’s cooperative building and reinforcement.


Banded Kingfishers engage in substantial parental care, with both parents taking turns incubating the eggs and feeding their young. The birds reach maturity at around 1 to 2 years of age, with breeding occurring soon after.

Nest building typically occurs between March and June, and pairs typically lay two to four eggs. The nest is constructed primarily

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