Collared Kingfisher attacked and killed a flycatcher

on 24th February 2011

“I was at the beach at the East Coast Park last Sunday (20 Feb 2011) where I witnessed at close range the strangest incident involving a Collared Kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris) and an Asian Brown Flycatcher (Muscicapa dauurica). The incident left me dumbfounded. Until then I would never have expected a kingfisher to attack and kill another bird. Unbelievably, that was what it did before my very eyes.

“I saw the Collared Kingfisher swooping down from its perch on a casuarina tree (Casuarina equisetifolia) and flying into the canopy of the adjacent pong pong tree (Cerbera odollam). Without ever stopping on its flight, it snatched something large and brown between its beak and flew out ascending towards its former perch. It wasn’t until it dropped the ‘thing’ from a considerable height (before disappearing beyond the casuarina tree) that I realised it was a bird. The ‘thing’ fluttered on the ground a few short seconds and stayed still. I went up to inspect and found the Asian Brown Flycatcher already dead (above).

“The kingfisher did not return to its kill as I lay in wait for another half hour. What I heard, though, is its laughter somewhere nearby. I put the poor bird below the foot of the casuarina tree and as I walked away, I can’t help feeling that the kill was a fun kill – my feeling, no doubt, accentuated by the raucous cackling of a bird that (forgive me for saying so) almost sounded wicked.

“Note: The photo of the dead flycatcher was first taken with a handphone, printed and re-taken with a digital camera.

“When I related the incident to Prof Cheong Loong Fah, he followed up by searching the literature. He checked Wells (1999) and found a report of the White-throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis) attacking the young of Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) and White-rumped Sharma (Copsychus malabaricus) as well as munias (Lonchura sp.). [However, there is no report of the Collared Kingfisher attacking birds in Wells (1999). But Woodall (2011) reports this species taking ‘less commonly, eggs, nestlings and small birds such as honeyeaters (Lichmera), and mice’]”

Joseph Lai
22nd February 2011

Wells, D.R., 1999. The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsular. Vol. I, Non-passerines. Academic Press, London.
2. Woodall, P. F., 2001. Family Alcedinidae (Kingfishers). In: del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott & J. Sargatal (eds.), Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 6. Mousebirds to Hornbills. Lynx Editions, Barcelona. Pp. 130-249.

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

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14 Responses

    1. Yes, the website’s archive has become so large that it is difficult to keep track of what have already been posted. And the amount of information already posted is mind boggling, thank to all contributors…

  1. Collared Kingfishers are very aggressive birds. I’ve encountered the Collared chasing after the larger Stork-Billed Kingfisher, which is probably one and a half times its length.

  2. kingfishers do catch vertebrate preys, especially those larger species of the Halcyon family rather than the smaller Alcedine kingfishers.

    Especially during breeding season, kingfishers would often catch small birds, but I had not quite heard of the behavior of Collared Kingfisher, but at least the related White-throated that is seen everywhere is commonly recorded to take small birds, such as prinias, munias and etc, also would take in other small vertebrates like lizards and etc when the food is available.

  3. There is also a previous BESG post that shows a Paddyfield Pipit in the bill of a White-throated Kingfisher.

    This is a new and good record of a Collared Kingfisher killing a bird but it is not surprising, as this species is very varied in its diet, with records of lizards, small snakes, frogs and various insects on the prey item list.

    While Joseph’s has the impression that the killing may have been a “fun” thing and the kingfisher’s laughter sounded evil, this is unlikely. Killing for fun is more a human thing, though there are some records of other species doing the same thing.

    It is more likely that the flycatcher was genuine prey but the kingfisher dropped its prey due to Joseph’s or someone else’s presence. The laughing call is typical of the species and it can’t help it if some find the sound evil. The meaning of the call may be something totally different, such as it protesting the loss of its meal!

  4. Thanks Subaraj,

    I believe too that the flycatcher is a deliberate target and prey. It had a rather elaborate and ‘clever’ fancy predatory flight pattern. Not that it did some acrobats in the air but when it swoop down, it went a full 180 degree round flight and enter the Pong Pong tree very sharply ‘in the back door’ instead of the ‘front door’. I did make short of my description of its flight in my above posting.

    As for the ‘wicked’ part, (Ayah! : )) it is just the poetic me naturally writing my feelings down. Believe me, I don’t think the kingfisher is ‘evil’ – yes, like some human beings are.

    As for me scaring the kingfisher – no way : ). I way sitting down, calm as a Buddha, and just surveying the beautiful green canopies of the trees when the whole incident unfold in front of my eyes. The kingfisher was actually flying away from my position and at least 12m away. I still think it is a fun kill though this is debatable (and not because of the ‘wicked’ laughter). Haha

    1. Dear Joe,

      There is a possibility that the kingfisher suddenly noticed you and decided to give up on the prey, especially with the photographs you provided, you are definitely nearby, birds would abandon food and unhatched nests when they felt that its too dangerous and not worth it.

      Seeing you realized that there is a flycatcher there, they may never returned to collect it, or may do so after a long period of time, they however may not successfully relocate the prey then. I once saw a Crested Goshawk accidentally dropped some flesh onto the ground, looked down at it for a while and forgotten about it. I spent quite some time to actually find it in the grass despite seeing where it drops to, I think the goshawk would also not want to spend her time looking for such a small piece of lost flesh. Thanks.

  5. Sorry, Prof, I was referring to the Kingfisher. It did that 180 round flight around the pong pong tree. So it did not enter by the side of its descend from the casuarina but swoop a 180 degree to enter the pong pong from the opposite side – like a surprise attack. So when it flew out (with the flycatcher in its beak), it flew straight out and up towards the casuarina tree before dropping the flycatcher on the ascent. Next time we meet I will use drawing to explain clearer to you. The poor flycatcher was a ‘sitting duck’ in the pong pong canopy.

  6. O, yes, it occured to me that there is a clearer way describing the kingfisher’s attacking flight by imagining a clock face: Joe Lai at 6 o’clock position, the kingfisher (and casuarina tree) at 11 o’clock, and flycatcher (and pong pong tree) at 3 o’clock.

    Kingfisher flew from 11 towards 4, passing below 3 and turning around sharply on the right of 3 (outside clock face). It then entered 3 and came out with flycatcher in its beak and flew towards 11. About halfway up ascending to 11, it dropped the flycatcher to the ground.

    I hope this description is clearer.

  7. My parents witnessed a Collared Kingfisher killing a juvenile blackbird on the front lawn. They also said it made an aggressive pass at an adult chicken.

  8. Every day for 2 weeks I have a kingfisher swoop in to attack & kill my gouldian finches through the cage , any thoughts on how to eradicate the kingfisher from my property

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