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Alcedo cristata (Malachite kingfisher) 

Kuifkopvisvanger [Afrikaans]; Isaxwila (generic term for kingfisher) [Xhosa]; iNhlunuyamanzi, isiKhilothi, uZangozolo (also applied to African pygmy-kingfisher) [Zulu]; Seinoli (generic term for kingfisher) [South Sotho]; Chinderera, Kanyururahove [Shona]; Sipholoti (also applied to Brown-hooded kingfisher) [Swazi]; Tshololwana (generic term for kingfisher) [Tsonga]; Mmatlhapi, Seinôdi (generic terms for kingfisher) [Tswana]; Malachietijsvogel [Dutch]; Martin-pêcheur huppé [French]; Malachiteisvogel, Haubenzwergfischer [German]; Pica-peixe-de-poupa [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora >Aves (birds) > Order: Coraciiformes > Family: Alcedinidae

Alcedo cristata (Malachite kingfisher)  Alcedo cristata (Malachite kingfisher) 
Malachite kingfisher. [photo Callie de Wet ©] Malachite kingfisher juvenile. [photo Callie de Wet ©]
Alcedo cristata (Malachite kingfisher)  Alcedo cristata (Malachite kingfisher) 
Malachite kingfisher, with caught tadpole in its beak, Paarl Bird Sanctuary, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©] Malachite kingfisher taking off, Paarl Bird Sanctuary, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

The Malachite kingfisher is common in many areas of southern Africa, living in a wide variety of aquatic habitats. It feeds mainly on fish, as well as amphibians and insects. Both sexes dig a burrow, which is used as a nesting site, and placed in the banks of rivers or streams. It lays 3-6 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes, for 14-16 days. The chicks are brooded for the first few weeks of their lives, before leaving the nest at 22-25 days old. They start fishing within one week of fledging, sometimes "catching" twigs and leaves. They are chased away by their parents at 36-41 days old.

Distribution and habitat

Common across much of sub-Saharan Africa; within southern Africa it occurs in northern and southern Namibia, northern and south-eastern Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa. It occupies a variety of aquatic habitats, including slow-moving rivers and streams, dams, sheltered shores, coastal lagoons, tidal estuaries, mangrove swamps, sewage ponds, irrigation canals, mangroves, reed or papyrus marshes, seasonal streams and temporary ponds. It normally breeds in small watercourses, with steep banks for nesting holes and plenty of thickets and reeds.

Distribution of Malachite kingfisher in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  


Its diet varies greatly in different regions, although its diet is usually dominated by fish, as well as frogs, tadpoles and aquatic insects. It hunts by sitting on a perch, staring intently into the water in search of prey. Once prey is located, it dives steeply in the water, grabbing with its bill. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Vertebrates
    • small fish
      • Oreochromis alcalicus (Tilapia)
      • Aplocheilichthys johnstoni (Johnston's topminnow)
    • amphibians
      • frogs
      • tadpoles (see bottom left image)
    • reptiles
      • lizards
  • Invertebrates
    • insects
    • Oligochaete worms
    • small crustaceans
      • prawns
      • crabs


  • Both sexes participate in excavating a burrow nest, which is dug into the earthen bank of a stream or river. It consists of a tunnel going 0.25-1.2m into the ground, ending in a 9cm wide nest cavity. Interestingly, it constructs 2-3 burrows simultaneously, but only completing one.
  • It usually lays it's eggs when the water level is low, but there are exceptions. Laying dates are as follows:
  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
North-eastern South Africa                        
Western Cape                        
  • It lays 3-6 eggs at one day intervals, which are incubated by both sexes for 14-16 days.

  • The chicks are fed mainly fed Tilapia (Oreochromis alcalicus), and at one point weigh more than their parents. The amount of food they are given decreases as their fledging period grows nearer, leading to the nestlings losing weight.

  • The chicks are brooded mainly by the female, until their eyes open at 10-12 days old. They leave the nest at 22-25 days old, fledging one or two days later. They start fishing within one week of fledging, sometimes catching twigs and leaves instead of prey. They are chased away by their parents at 36-41 days old.


Not threatened, in fact common in many areas of southern Africa.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG (eds) 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.