Mystery Bird: Forest Kingfisher, Todiramphus macleayii

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[Mystery bird] Forest Kingfisher, also known as Macleay's Kingfisher, Blue Kingfisher or Bush Kingfisher, Todiramphus macleayii, photographed at Mossman, Queensland, Australia. [I will identify this bird for you in 48 hours]

Image: Steve Duncan, 18 August 2009 [larger view].

Nikon D200 w/ Nikkor 300mm 1/1600 sec, f/4 iso 200.

Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.

The Forest Kingfisher is classified in the genus Todiramphus in the Halcyonidae family, which are often known as tree kingfishers [note: Todiramphus is often subsumed into Halcyon]. As is obvious from the above image, this kingfisher is a royal blue and white bird. It is found in subtropical or tropical forests and swamplands throughout Indonesia, New Guinea and along the eastern and northern coastal regions of Australia. Like many other kingfishers, it hunts invertebrates and small frogs and lizards, the larger and wigglier of which are often beaten on tree limbs or other objects before they are swallowed. There are two subspecies common to Australia; H. m. macleayi, the nominate subspecies, occurs across the northern portions of Australia and eastwards to the Gulf of Carpentaria. H. m. incinctus, is found down the eastern coast of Australia and is migratory, migrating north to Kai Island (southeastern Moluccas) and southern New Guinea. Additionally, H. m. incinctus, has a greener tinge to its back, has buffier underparts and lores, and is slightly larger than the nominate subspecies. The Forest Kingfisher is distinguished from other local kingfishers in these ways;

  1. Forest Kingfisher has dark royal blue head with a pale turquoise back while Collared Kingfisher, T. chloris, is greener in color and has a white wing patch (although the white wing patch is not visible in this image even if present)
  2. Forest Kingfisher has whiter underparts than Sacred Kingfisher, T. sanctus, and lacks the white wing patch (again, not visible in this image, even if it is present)
  3. Forest Kingfisher is smaller in size than Sacred Kingfisher, T. sanctus (difficult to see in this image)
  4. Forest Kingfisher is smaller in size than Collared Kingfisher, T. chloris (difficult to see in this image)
  5. Forest Kingfisher is larger in size than the visually similar Little Kingfisher, Alcedo pusilla, which is also rarely seen, according to my sources

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Mossman is within the range of 9 of Australia's 10 kingfishers occur at Mossman and its only just outside the range of the 10th, Yellow-billed K.

The crisp white underparts leave us with the 4 Todiramphus sp. and suggest Forest K. The deep-blue upperparts eliminate the other 3 - Sacred K., Red-backed K. and the Queensland ssp. of Collared K. (sordidus). Easily seen perched on power-lines around the cane-fields outside Mossman.

The hind neck seems dark rather than the white collar wrapping around which would make it female.

Andrew T, can't complain about excluding Todiramphus sanctus or T. pyrrhopygius but I am finding a lot of variation in T. chloris from green through to the deep blue as above (but there are 49 subspecies... and PNG is not too far away!)...

If it is T. macleayii then it could either be the nominate macleayii subsp or incinctus but not elizabeth...

In photos of those two I have seen the same buff tint only under the wings on macleayii but not incinctus, so...

Todiramphus macleayii macleayii, Macleay's or Forest Kingfisher

Both Australian ssp. of Collared K. have green-blue upperparts, but ssp outside Australia apparently can be deep-blue.

I don't think there are any records of other ssp in Australia. You could usually exclude them anyway by size and probably jizz&habitat - but not just with this picture.

If the collar is incomplete that excludes the Australian ssp. of Collared K. - don't know about the others, similarly the black eye stripe finishing behind the eyes.

Collared K. can have some buff on the underparts but I don't know if it ever ever it just the flanks as above.

Thanks Andrew,

These are the three Australian subspecies and ranges I could locate for the Collared:

Todiramphus chloris pilbara~ western Australia (Exmouth Gulf to mouth of Turner River)

Todiramphus chloris sordidus~ south New Guinea, Aru Islands, and coastal northern Australia

Todiramphus chloris colcloughi~ central Queensland coast to north-east New South Wales

I think the shape of the black mask and that it doesn't extend onto the nape would exclude Collared and would make it Forest Kingfisher. I cannot find whether it is only the immatures have the buffy flanks or if this carries through to some of the adult of some of the subspecies.

LOL! Here we are again with our sunbird, willet, kingfisher, oriole, etc. species issue... when we figure out a more tenable definition/concept of what species is, then perhaps we'll understand that we have been, and are, limited by our own understanding...! (surely this particular instance also calls for an approach that includes not just BSC but also phylogeny and ecological niche as determining descriptors of species?)

"I was much struck how entirely vague and arbitrary is the distinction between species and varieties" -- Charlie, 1859

Buffly flanks and present in a variable amount in some adult Forest Kingfishers.

I dragged out a couple of field guides, some non-Australian Collared K. ssp. can have buffy flanks (and buff elsewhere).

You might also struggle to exclude some non-Australian Todiramphus sp. from the view above

Buffly flanks and present in a variable amount in some adult Forest Kingfishers.

I dragged out a couple of field guides, some non-Australian Collared K. ssp. can have buffy flanks (and buff elsewhere).

You might also struggle to exclude some non-Australian Todiramphus sp. from the view above

A couple of comment on the added text.

The size difference between Sacred and Forest Kingfishers is too slight to be much use - and Sacred K. underparts can occasionally appear very white - presumably wear + the light. Inexperienced observers sometimes report Forest K. where they are rare for for this reason

Little K. has blue on its underparts - and yes is tiny with a short-tail and compact appearance.

Some Forest K. do make a trans Torres movement but migration is only partial and some (much?) of the movement is within Australia , e.g. in the area where the photo is taken you might see more Forest K. during winter.

Little Kingfisher's dense riverine habitat does makes observation more difficult compared to Forest K. sitting in open habitat near roads, but it is seen by many birdwatchers visiting the Mossman area.

Andrew, thanks for the added notes... I am not familiar with the subtleties of day-in day-out field observations of Australasian kingfishers, but does it strike you that the bird pictured above is more streamlined than usual, (all the reference photos I found show stockier birds), or is it perhaps that post-dive look when they have just emerged from fishing?

Grrl, although my own "guess' was T. m. macleayii, with the Forest having a "turquoise" back and the Sacred a "greener" blue [kinda sounds the same] and several descriptions observing "more blue than green" on Sacreds and observed variations within subspecies and certainly at least 50 subspecies of Sacred that have been described so far, I am not convinced that excluding T. chloris based on your notes differentiates the two...

p.s. did you have an idea of what the species were of the perched flock set to music?

David, yes the pictured bird looks poised to fly, perhaps because of the approach of the photographer.