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Giant kingfisher

Megaceryle maxima

Photo by Steve Garvie (Flickr)

Common name:
giant kingfisher (en); guarda-rios-gigante (pt); martin-pêcheur géant (fr); martín gigante africano (es); riesenfischer (de)

Order Coraciiformes
Family Alcedinidae

These birds are found throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa, with the exception of the arid areas of Namibia, Botswana and north-western South Africa, and northern Kenya, eastern Ethiopia and Somalia.

The giant kingfisher is 42-48 cm long and 255-425 g.

The giant kingfisher is found in large perennial rivers, and in lakes and dams with plenty of marginal woody growth, also using moist tropical forests, swamp forests, mangroves, and estuaries and other intertidal habitats.

They mainly hunt fishes, particularly cichlids and groupers, but also take river crabs, frogs, toads and, occasionally, small reptiles and insects. 

Giant kingfishers breed in August-March, varying among different parts of their range. They nest in solitary pairs, with both sexes helping excavate the nest tunnel in a river bank, cliff or sand quarry. The tunnel can be up to 1,8 m long and has an unlined nest chamber at the end. There the female lays 3-5 white eggs which are incubated by both parents for 25-27 days. The chicks fledge about 37 days after hatching, but only become fully independent 3 weeks later.

IUCN status – LC (Least Concern)
This species has an extremely large breeding range and is reported to be widespread and common in some areas. The population is suspected to be in decline, possibly owing to loss of nesting sites and the effects of pesticide run-off from adjacent farmland. It is also shot as a pest at some trout hatcheries.

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