Grey-headed kingfisher -- 灰头翡翠 (Halcyon leucocephala)

Grey-headed kingfisher perched on branch, side view
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Grey-headed kingfisher fact file

Grey-headed kingfisher description

GenusHalcyon (1)

The grey-headed kingfisher is an insect-eating kingfisher with a silvery-grey head, nape and breast and a distinctive chestnut belly (3) (4) (5).The wing primaries are black, while the secondaries and the tail are cobalt-blue (3) (5). The straight, dagger shaped bill is bright orangey-red (3) (5) (6). Although the sexes are alike in appearance, immature birds tend to be duller and have a blackish bill and dark barring across the chest (3) (5).

Also known as
Chestnut-bellied kingfisher, gray-headed kingfisher, gray-hooded kingfisher.
Martin-chasseur à tête grise.
Length: 20 cm (2)

Grey-headed kingfisher biology

Despite the name, the grey-headed kingfisher does not feed on fish, but instead thrives on a wide variety of insects, such as grasshoppers, cockroaches and beetles, and occasionally takes small vertebrates such as lizards (3) (8). Like other kingfishers, this species generally sits still on a perch, before diving steeply down to the ground in pursuit of prey (6) (8).

The nest, which is excavated by both sexes, consists of a tunnel up to a metre long, dug into a riverbank, gully or termite mound (2) (8). Egg-laying occurs between September and December, with three to four eggs incubated by both parent birds for around 20 days (8).


Grey-headed kingfisher range

The grey-headed kingfisher is common across much of sub-Saharan Africa (2) (7) (8). As a migratory species, it generally only occurs in southern Africa during the breeding season (8).


Grey-headed kingfisher habitat

Found in broadleaved woodland and savanna habitats, particularly along rivers and streams (2) (3) (8).


Grey-headed kingfisher status

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Grey-headed kingfisher threats

The grey-headed kingfisher is widespread, common and not thought to be under significant threat (7) (8), but is probably affected by habitat loss and fragmentation in parts of its range.


Grey-headed kingfisher conservation

There are currently no known conservation measures in place for the grey-headed kingfisher. However, given its widespread distribution, it is likely to occur in numerous protected areas across its range (9).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

To find out more about the conservation of African birds see:

For more information on this and other bird species please see:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:


The act of keeping eggs warm so that development is possible.
In birds, the main flight feathers projecting along the outer edge of the wing.
In birds, the shorter flight feathers projecting along the inner edge of the wing.


  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2008)
  2. Alden, P.C., Estes, R.D., Schlitter, D. and McBride, B. (1996) Collins Guide to African Wildlife. HarperCollins Publishers, London.
  3. Richards, D. (2001) A Photographic Guide to Birds of East Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  4. Sinclair, I. (1994) Ian Sinclair's Field Guide to the Birds of Southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  5. Sinclair, I. and Davidson, I. (2006) Southern African Birds: A Photographic Guide. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  6. Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  7. BirdLife International (April, 2009)
  8. Biodiversity Explorer: The Web of Life in Southern Africa (April, 2009)
  9. World Database on Protected Areas (April, 2009)

Image credit

Grey-headed kingfisher perched on branch, side view  
Grey-headed kingfisher perched on branch, side view

© Martin B Withers /

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