The Giant Kingfisher is endemic to the southern part of the Sahara Desert. Its binomial name, Megaceryle maxima, came from a Greek word meaning “great kingfisher.” Meanwhile, the term “maxima” is a Latin word that means “the largest.” Today, the Giant Kingfisher is considered as the largest kingfisher in the African continent and the Alcedinidae family.
Kingfishers are a family comprised of small to medium-sized, bright-colored birds. Birds such as the Green Kingfisher, Belted Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, and Red-backed Kingfisher belong in this family.
German zoologist and botanist Peter Simon Pallas was the first person to describe the Giant Kingfisher in 1796. Its first binomial name was Alcedo maxima. The binomial name was later revised when German naturalist Johann Jakob von Kaup introduced the genus Megaceryle in 1848.
Naturalists have recognized two subspecies in Africa: Megaceryle maxima maxima, which thrives in southern Africa, Ethiopia, and Senegal, and Megaceryle maxima gigantea, which lives in the lush forests of Tanzania, Angola, and Liberia.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List categorized this species as Least Concern.
Its twelve levels of scientific classification are as follows:
Kingdom – Animalia
Phylum – Chordata
Class – Aves
Subclass – Neornithes
Infraclass – Neognathae
Superorder – Neoaves
Order – Coraciiformes
Suborder – Alcedini
Family – Alcedinidae
Subfamily – Cerylinae
Genus – Megaceryle
Species – Megaceryle maxima
Physical characteristics of a Giant Kingfisher
Like other species of kingfisher, the Giant Kingfisher is a bird that is full of bold, loud colors, making it a sight to behold whether it’s resting or in flight. It grows from 42-46 cm. A male Giant Kingfisher weights 275-425 g, while a female weighs between 255-398 g.
An adult male usually has dark grey upperparts and white-edged feathers that results in a streaked effect. It has a dark greyish brown tail with narrow white prints. Its underparts, throat, and chin are white. Its upper chest is chestnut in color. Its belly is white with black or grey spots. Its underwings are white.
Its head is mostly black or dark grey with white spots. Its cheeks are black, too, but the lower parts of its head are white. It has a long, heavy beak that is grey or black in color.
Meanwhile, an adult female has dark grey upperparts too, but its chest is white with black spots. Its belly, undertail, and underwings are chestnut in color.
Giant Kingfisher’s distribution and habitat
The Giant Kingfisher is widespread in Africa but is denser in the continent’s central and southern regions. The subspecies “maxima” occurs more in open areas, while the subspecies “gigantea” prefers rainforests.
Giant Kingfishers are usually found in wetter areas such as lakes, dams, rivers, mountain streams, both in savannas and forests. They can also be found in lagoons, mangroves, seashores, and stagnant pools where sustenance is abundant.
The behavior of a Giant Kingfisher
Like most kingfishers, Giant Kingfishers are territorial and monogamous birds. There is little information about how they perform their courtship displays. However, it is believed that male and female Giant Kingfishers perform aerial fights and produce loud cries.
A Giant Kingfisher’s hunting and diet habits
When scanning for its prey, the Giant Kingfisher perches on a branch or a rock near the water source. Once the prey is within sight, the bird will make a shallow dive underwater to catch its prey before returning to the branch or rock. Sometimes, it hovers over the water, waiting for the perfect opportunity to catch prey.
This bird can swallow a small crab and a fish. When the prey is too big to be swallowed whole, the Giant Kingfisher will use its bill to remove the unnecessary body parts while retaining the flesh and meat of its prey. Aside from crabs and fish, the Giant Kingfisher also feeds on frogs, insects, and small reptiles.
When the Giant Kingfisher hunts for food in the seawater, it will rinse its plumage in freshwater.
Mating among Giant Kingfishers
The breeding season is highly dependent on the area where the Giant Kingfishers live. If they live in the northern part of Africa, the nesting months occur between December and February. However, if they live in the southern part of Africa, the mating happens only in December and January.
Successful pairs build their nest (an excavated tunnel that is about 180 cm in length and 9-15 in width) near the river or sand quarry, where food is abundant. The female Giant Kingfisher lays three or five eggs. After laying the eggs, the pair will take turns thrice a day in incubating them for one month.
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