All the way back in 2011 I wrote about the confusing taxanomic enigma that is the Collared Kingfisher, a species that ranges from the Red Sea to Tonga in a bewildering variety of forms. I’m happy to report that an analysis of the species and some relatives has found that, as suspected, it isn’t a single species. In fact there are a whole lot of kingfishers that are new for armchair tickers with the Tuamoto and Micronesian Kingfisher (both in the same genus) being split too. As you can see though, there remains some variation even in the species that remain.

Collared Kingfisher sensu stricto

The original Collared Kingfisher, Todiramphus chloris, still spans across a mighty swathe of territory, from the Red Sea to New Guinea.

Subspecies vidali, Goa, India. Flickr User Sergey Yeliseev, (Creative Commons, Attribution, Non Commercial, Non-derivs)


Subspecies humii, Thailand. Image by JJ Harrison (Creative Commons, Attribution Share-alike)

collared kingfisher

Subspecies kalbansis, United Arab Emirates. Top Flickr user Sjahanmi (Creative Commons, Attribution, Non-commercial)

Mariana Kingfisher

One new Pacific island form is the Mariana Kingfisher (Todiramphus albicilla) from the Mariana Islands in Micronesia.

Saipan, Micronesia. Flickr User Tropical Pete (Used with permission)

Torrresian Kingfisher

I’m not sure why Australian birds are given this name, but the Australian subspecies is the Torrresian Kingfisher (Todiramphus sordidus).

SE Queensland. Tom Tarrant (Creative Commons, Attribution share-alike).

Pacific Kingfisher

The Pacific Kingfisher (Todiramphus sacer) is one of three species identified in the South Pacific, the other two being from the Solomon Islands and I have no images of them (The Colonist Kingfisher and Melanesian Kingfisher).

Subspecies pealei, National Park of American Samoa. Bryan Harry, USNPS.


Subspecies sacer, ‘Eua, Tonga. Photo by author.

Subspecies vitiensis, Fiji. Tom Tarrant. As suspectes, this is in this species and not the Sacred Kingfisher. Although the Sacred Kingfisher is in the middle of this complex and closely related.


Subspecies juliae, Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu. Image by author.

It can’t have escaped your notice that there is still quite a lot of variation in these new species. In part this is because the study concentrated on Pacific subspecies and didn’t sample even half the 50 or so subspecies. For example only a single subspecies from Vanuatu was sampled. So, while the great project to understand this species, or not-species, has begun, there is more work to do and more surprises to find.

Written by Duncan
Duncan Wright is a Wellington-based ornithologist working on the evolution of New Zealand's birds. He's previously poked albatrosses with sticks in Hawaii, provided target practice for gulls in California, chased monkeys up and down hills Uganda, wrestled sharks in the Bahamas and played God with grasshopper genetics in Namibia. He came into studying birds rather later in life, and could quit any time he wants to.