The malachite kingfisher, Alcedo cristata, is named for the bright blue/green feathers that sit on top of its head that may be raised to form a type of crest if the kingfisher is disturbed. The malachite kingfisher is largely a piscivorous (fish-eating) bird and hunts its prey by diving into the water from a low bough typically over a slow-moving river. Other prey items, however, such as insects, crustaceans, or even small frogs may also be eaten. Malachite kingfishers are distributed throughout sub-Saharan Africa, where they are quite common. They nest along sandy banks in tunnels that incline upwards to reach a nesting chamber. Females deposit approximately 3-6 round, white eggs into a nest composed of fish bones and disgorged pellets (Fry et al., 1992).
Kingfishers are members of ‘Coraciiformes’, which traditionally includes Leptosomidae, Coraciidae, Brachypteraciidae, Upupidae, Phoeniculidae, Bucerotidae, Meropidae, Todidae, and Momotidae (Mayr et al., 2003). Although the coraciiforms may not be a natural grouping, there is evidence (both morphological and molecular) that Alcedinidae (kingfishers), Meropidae, Momotidae, and Todidae form a monophyletic group (Maurer and Raikow, 1981; Burton, 1984; Sibley and Ahlquist, 1990; Mayr et al., 2003).
This clade is supported by the tendon of musculus flexor hallucis longus being excluded from the hallux (Maurer and Raikow, 1981); a columella with a large, hollow, bulbous base and footplate, exhibiting a large fenestra on one side; the scapula and acromion are distinctly bifurcate, with an additional medial process; and the proximal phalanx of the hallux has a proximal end that is greatly widened (Mayr et al., 2003).
There are approximately 87 extant species of kingfishers that are divided into three groups; the dacelonids (kookaburras and halcyons), alcedinids (small blue-and-rufous kingfishers, including A. cristata), and cerylids (green and giant kingfishers). Of these groups, only the cerylids are found in the New World.
The kingfishers (Alcedinidae) as a whole are thought to be monophyletic. They are characterized by large heads, short necks, short legs, and long bills (Fry et al., 1992); however, these are traits that they share with many other ‘coraciiform’ birds. Kingfishers are diagnosed by myological features including the extensor metacarpi ulnaris origin being fused with that of ectepicondyloulnaris, fibularis longus branch to FPD3 tendon being absent, and the flexor hallucis longus directly suppling only digits III and IV (Maurer and Raikow, 1981).
Baumel, J. J., A. S. King, J. E. Breazile, H. E. Evans, and J. C. Vanden Berge (eds.). 1993. Handbook of Avian Anatomy: Nomina Anatomica Avium, Second Edition. Publication of the Nuttall Ornithological Club, number 23. Nuttall Ornithological Club, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 779 pp.
Burton, P. J. K. 1984. Anatomy and evolution of the feeding apparatus in the avian orders Coraciiformes and Piciformes. Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History), Zoological Series, 47:331-441.
Dowsett, R. J. 1971. Head-twisting by the malachite kingfisher, Alcedo cristata. Ostrich 42:300.
Fry, C. H., K. Fry, and A. Harris. 1992. Kingfishers, Bee-eaters, and Rollers: A Handbook. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 324 pp.
Fry, C. H. 1980. The origin of Afrotropical kingfishers. Ibis 122:57-74.
Maurer, D. R., and R. J. Raikow. 1981. Appendicular myology, phylogeny, and classification of the avian order Coraciiformes (including Trogoniformes). Annals of Carnegie Museum 50:417-434.
Mayr, G., A. Manegold, and U. S. Johansson. 2003. Monophyletic groups within 'higher land birds' - comparison of morphological and molecular data. Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research 41:233-248.
Miller, W. deW. 1912. A revision of the classification of the kingfishers. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 31:239-312.
Sibley, C. G., and J. E. Ahlquist. 1991. Phylogeny and Classification of Birds: A Study in Molecular Evolution. Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut, 976 pp.
Slotow, R. 2000. Beak lengths in insectivorous and piscivorous kingfishers (Alcediniformes: Alcedinidae). Durban Museum Novitates 25:56-58.
Woodall, P. F. 1991. Morphometry, diet and habitat in the kingfishers (Aves, Alcedinidae). Journal of Zoology, London 223:79-90.
Woodall, P. F. 2001 Family Alcedinidae (kingfishers); pp. 130-249 in J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, and J. Sargatal (eds.), Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 6. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.
Movies of Alcedo cristata on the Internet Bird Collection (IBC)
Images of the malachite kingfisher on WorldBirder.com.