Forest Kingfisher Click to enlarge image
Forest Kingfisher Image: Geoff Whalan
creative commons

Fast Facts

  • Classification
  • Size Range
    18 cm to 23 cm


During nest-making Forest Kingfishers fly with such force into the termite nest that deaths from a broken neck have sometimes been seen.


The Forest Kingfisher has a dark royalblue head with pale turquoise on the back.There is a large white spot over the bill. The underparts are white.The male has a white collar which the female lacks. In flight there is a prominent white wing patch.There is a broad black eyestrip extending from the bill to the eye coverts. The tail is royal blue above and below is black to dusky grey. The long, straight bill is black and the lower mandible ('jaw'), which is long and upturned, has a pinkish contrasting strip along the bottom. The eyes are dark brown. The legs and feet are dark brown or dark grey.The eastern race <em>incinctus</em> has a greener back with a smaller white wingspot. Immature birds are slightly duller with forehead and shoulders scalloped faintly white and breast scalloped faintly black. In young males the neck collar is blue mottled and indistinct. The Forest Kingfisher is also known as Macleay's, Blue or Bush Kingfisher.


Forest Kingfishers are commonly found in open sclerophyll forest with a patchy or sparse understorey. They favour watercourse vegetation and the margins of swamps and billabongs. They may also be found in mangroves, cane fields, farmlands and beaches, however they require forest and woodland for breeding.


The Forest Kingfisher is essentially a tropical and subtropical kingfisher.

The nominate (same name as species) race is found from the Top End of Northern Territory to the Gulf Coast. The incinctus race is found in coastal eastern Australia from Cape York to the Macleay River in New South Wales. Occasional vagrants are seen further south.


The nominate race appears sedentary with occasional vagrant sightings in north-western Australia. In eastern Australia, the race incincta in general is regarded as sedentary apart from some local seasonal movements. However in south-eastern Queensland and north-eastern New South Wales populations are partially migratory. In Queensland, the population increases in spring and autumn associated with some passage from and to New Guinea. There may also be some lateral (east-west) migration of eastern birds to the Top End.

Feeding and diet

The Forest Kingfisher's diet consists of invertebrates, including beetles, bugs, spiders and grasshoppers. It also will eat insect larvae, small lizards, frogs and worms. It typically hunts from low bare branches or telegraph wires. Most prey are caught with sally-pouncing, often landing with a thud caused by the breast and leg hitting the ground while seizing prey with the bill. They also engage in sally-hunting, striking the prey from low branches or the air and may also hunt in shallow water. There is a quick return flight to a perch, then the prey is killed by banging it against the branch, often dislodging indigestible portions such as insects' wings. Hunting takes place during the day, but with little activity during the hottest part of the day.


A series of rapidly repeated notes, either a high pitched whistle: 'krree-krree-krree' or a 'machine gun' call; also harsh strident chatter near the nest.

Breeding behaviours

Breeding Season: September to February, earlier in the north.

Early on in the breeding season, the male Forest Kingfisher explores nest sites or even begins preliminary digging at several sites. The pairs, which may share long-term monogamous bonds, both build the nest. Sometimes the nests are in tree cavities, earthbanks or roots of fallen trees; more often they are in arboreal termitaria (termite nests in trees), and they are usually 4 - 12 m above the ground. Each member of a pair flies straight at the nest site from several metres away, with their bills pointed forward like a bullet, chipping away some of the 'cement' with each impact. Eventually a nest chamber about 23 cm in diameter is formed at the end of a short, slightly sloping tunnel. Although the short sloping tunnel helps the nestlings eject their droppings some nests become very soiled. Both sexes, as well as helpers from the previous season, help in the incubationof the eggs as well as feeding the young. It is even possible that in warmer areas the heat of the sun and the termite nest during the day are sufficient for incubation. Both sexes defend the nest vigorously. There is agonistic (fighting) behaviour by the pair at the start of the breeding season defending their territory and during the breeding season the males spend much time perched on a branch, challenging persistently. The fledglings are fed by the adults for at least a month. In some areas there may be two broods per season, but this is rare in the sedentary Top End (far Northern Territory) population.

Economic impacts

Loss of habitat from clearance of woodland has affected some populations of the Forest Kingfisher.