The pied kingfisher is a skilled hunter with remarkable abilities and interesting habits. The species is definitely one of Africa’s most interesting black and white animals.

If you evoke a kingfisher image, you see its unmistakable dagger beak. Well, the pied kingfisher is even more recognizable due to its simple black and white colors and its comparatively larger size.

It is one of the most numerous kingfisher species, ranking in the top three largest populations. These high numbers could be due to its specialized hunting abilities, which no other kingfisher possesses.

Find out 10 facts which make the pied kingfisher a king of its kind.

1. The Black and White Kingfisher with Bowties and Bikinis

Male pied kingfisher with its distinguishable two black bands across the chest

The pied birds are so named for their black and white plumage and crest with a mottled wing pattern. As mentioned previously, they are the most recognizable kingfisher.

But sometimes it can be tricky to identify gender in birds. Luckily pied kingfishers perpetuate gender stereotypes. The male kingfisher has two black bands across the chest which looks similar to a bowtie. While the female has a singular gorget often split down the middle; a startling likeness to a bikini!

2. They are Unique Hovering Hunters

The distinctive hunting technique of pied kingfishers has earned the species a few records. Not only are they the largest hovering bird. But they are also the only kingfishers with the ability to perform a figure of eight wing stroke. Otherwise known as hovering.

They hunt by hovering 50-65 feet above the water and then diving headfirst (or rather, bill-first) into the water. Pied kingfishers demonstrate spectacular speed and agility on the hunt.

The black and white colors and the hovering ability are their most distinctive qualities. You’ll often spot the pied kingfisher live in action, hovering over bodies of water.

3. These Kingfishers Are All About Community and Unconventional Family

A pair of pied kingfishers resting next to each other on a reed

It takes a village to raise a child. And the pied kingfishers know this. They are extremely social birds and often hang out in pairs or small groups.

They are cooperative breeders. This means that there can be up to four ‘helpers’ who assist the parents in caring for their young. These helpers are oftentimes adult birds who have failed to raise chicks of their own.

It’s no wonder pied kingfisher numbers are so high. With so many ‘hands’ to raise chicks and defend territory.

4. It’s Fish on the Menu for the Water Kingfishers

Pied kingfishers never hunt on land. Their diet consists predominantly of fish, with a few crustaceans on the side. Fish is their favorite meal. But they hunt in freshwater and saltwater, so they are not averse to aquatic insects or amphibians.

They also eat small crustaceans, dragonfly larvae, mollusks, and frogs. The one definitive dietary rule is that their food is always aquatic.

5. Pied Kingfishers are Permanent Residents

Pied kingfisher splashes out of the water, hunting for its next meal

Unlike some of its relatives, the pied kingfisher prefers a more permanent home. Spread throughout Asia and Sub Saharan Africa, they are not migratory birds.

They will move short distances according to seasons. But are happy with their unexpanded horizons.

6. Habitat Restrictions are Not a Worry for These Adaptable Kingfishers

The unique hunting strategy extends beyond their ability to catch prey. The pied kingfisher’s method of hovering is also called aerial perching.

Unlike other kingfishers, the pied kingfisher can swallow small prey while flying. They don’t require a perch to eat. This means that they can hunt over large bodies of water that are lacking places to sit or stand.

These specialized flying abilities allow the kingfishers to adapt to any water habitat.

7. You Won’t Spot the Pied Kingfisher’s Nest in a Tree

Female pied kingfisher emerges out of her nest. Pied kingfishers make their nests close to water, digging out holes in vertical mud banks

Staying true to its species name of water kingfisher, pied kingfishers make their nests close to water. They make them by digging out holes in vertical mud banks!  These peculiar nests are generally 4-5 feet deep.

They don’t spend too much time in their cavernous nest. And usually spend many hours perched outside to conserve energy for hunting.

8. Forget 20/20 Vision – Introducing Underwater Vision

By now it is clear that pied kingfishers are exceptional hunters. And a big part of their superior hunting strategy is their unique vision.

Kingfisher’s eyes have adapted to spot the exact position of fish from above. Once the kingfisher spots the prey, refractions in the water don’t affect its vision. It has the ability to correct according to refraction and react to sudden movements of its prey.

To top it all off, the pied kingfisher closes its transparent eyelid to assist with vision underwater.

9. Think of Pied Kingfishers as Mythical ‘Rude’ Birds

Pied kingfisher hovering above a small pond, hunting for its next meal

The Latin name for pied kingfishers is Ceryle Rudis. It is the only member of the Ceryle genus, which derives from the Greek word kērulos. This is the name of a mythical bird that Aristotle has made reference to in his works.

Rudis is the Latin word for ‘rude’ or ‘wild’. The ‘mythical wild’ bird is an appropriate name for a bird with almost fantastical hunting skills!

10. Pied Kingfishers Aren’t Going Anywhere

Perhaps the best fact about the pied kingfisher is that the species is not endangered. Africa has no shortage of critically endangered species but these birds aren’t one of them.

Pied kingfishers have a wide and populous reach throughout the world.

The King of Kingfishers

Three pied kingfishers relaxing on a branch, Chobe, Botswana

The pied kingfishers aren’t a magical burst of color shooting through the air. But hopefully, this list has shed light on what sets these brilliant birds apart.

Simply watching the pied kingfisher in action will demonstrate the array of superpowers that it has. It is a record-breaker, expert flier, skilled hunter and best of all – loves to socialize.

With pied kingfisher numbers so high and their habitat extending throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, you should spot them easily on your own African safari.