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14

Red-backed Kingfisher

(Todiramphus pyrrhopygia)
Alternate name(s): "Golden Kingfisher"
Aboriginal name(s): "luurn" [kukatja], "luurnpa" ("lurnpa")

Size: 20-24 cm

Similar species

Description     Classification     Distribution     Sightings     Photos     Breeding     Nest     Eggs     Behaviour     Food     Call/s

Physical description

Click here for a physical description

Taxonomy, classification

See Red-backed Kingfisher at Wikipedia .

Range, habitat, finding this species

Click here for information on habitat and range

Sightings

Click here for sighting information

Photos

ADULT

MALE

Frontal view of a (probably male) Red-backed Kingfisher; this is one of the birds whose calls were recorded on 2 and 5 October 2014
[Near Narrabri, NSW, October 2014]

Near-frontal view of a (probably male) Red-backed Kingfisher with its head turned; this is one of the birds whose calls were recorded on 2 and 5 October 2014
[Near Narrabri, NSW, October 2014]

Lateral view of a (probably male) Red-backed Kingfisher (photo courtesy of M. Mearns)
[Currawinya NP, near Hungerford, QLD, in October 2012]

(Probably male) Red-backed Kingfisher with a mouse it has caught (for its near-fledging age chicks!)
[Near Narrabri, NSW, December 2014]

Comparison of a Red-backed Kingfisher (left) with a Laughing Kookaburra (right); except for the difference in size, when seen straight from the front the two species look remarkably similar

FEMALE

Full-frontal view of a (proably female) Red-backed Kingfisher (photo courtesy of J. Greaves)
[The Granites Gold Mine, inland NT, June 2015]

Near-frontal view of a (probably female) Red-backed Kingfisher (photo courtesy of J. Greaves)
[The Granites Gold Mine, inland NT, June 2015]

Close-up lateral view of a (probably female) Red-backed Kingfisher (photo courtesy of J. Greaves)
[The Granites Gold Mine, inland NT, June 2015]

Lateral view of a (probably female) Red-backed Kingfisher (photo courtesy of B. Hensen)
[Marrakai track, NT, August 2013]

Near-dorsal view of a Red-backed Kingfisher (photo courtesy of J. Greaves)
[The Granites Gold Mine, inland NT, June 2015]

Near-dorsal view of a Red-backed Kingfisher, with a clear view onto the characteristic rump
[Near Narrabri, NSW, October 2014]

Near-dorsal view of a Red-backed Kingfisher (photo courtesy of B. Hensen)
[Near Darwin River Dam, NT, August 2012]

Dorsal view of a Red-backed Kingfisher
[Near Narrabri, NSW, October 2014]

Pair of Red-backed Kingfishers in a dead tree; these are the birds whose calls were recorded on 2 and 5 October 2014
[Near Narrabri, NSW, October 2014]

Lateral view of a pair of Red-backed Kingfishers in a dead tree; these are the birds whose calls were recorded on 16 October 2014
[Near Narrabri, NSW, October 2014]

Lateral view of a pair of Red-backed Kingfishers in a dead tree; these are the birds whose calls were recorded on 16 October 2014
[Near Narrabri, NSW, October 2014]

Near-dorsal view of a pair of Red-backed Kingfishers in a dead tree; these are the birds whose calls were recorded on 16 October 2014
[Near Narrabri, NSW, October 2014]

(Probably female) Red-backed Kingfisher preening; this is one of the birds whose calls were recorded on 2 and 5 October 2014
[Near Narrabri, NSW, October 2014]

Pair of Red-backed Kingfishers getting excited
[Near Narrabri, NSW, November 2014]

Red-backed Kingfisher in gliding flight
[Near Narrabri, NSW, October 2014]

Red-backed Kingfisher landing on a power line, thereby showing its underwing plumage
[Near Narrabri, NSW, October 2014]

Dorsal view of a Red-backed Kingfisher just after take-off from a perch
[Near Narrabri, NSW, November 2014]

IMMATURE/JUVENILE

Full-frontal view of a fledgling Red-backed Kingfisher; note the good forward vision of this predatory species - this is the flegdling whose begging calls were recorded on 21 December 2014
[Near Narrabri, NSW, December 2014]

Near-frontal view of a fledgling Red-backed Kingfisher; just a few hours out of its nest tunnel (see below), this bird had good flying skills, but was a bit wobbly on its feet when perched on a twig - this is the flegdling whose begging calls were recorded on 21 December 2014
[Near Narrabri, NSW, December 2014]

Lateral view of a fledgling Red-backed Kingfisher - this is the flegdling whose begging calls were recorded on 21 December 2014
[Near Narrabri, NSW, December 2014]

Near-dorsal view of a fledgling Red-backed Kingfisher - this is the flegdling whose begging calls were recorded on 21 December 2014
[Near Narrabri, NSW, December 2014]

Breeding information

Breeding season: Oct - Dec Eggs: 3 - 5 Incubation period: 17 - 19 days Fledging age: ca. 21 days

The period listed in the table above is the core breeding period. It can extend from about September to February.

Nest building: ? Incubation: Female & male Dependent care: Female & male

In late October, this pair of Red-backed Kingfishers was observed mating and defending their territory along a stretch of creek bed with a vertical, carved-out bank
[Near Narrabri, NSW, October 2014]

Nest

"bungobittah", "malunna" = nest [Aboriginal]

Type: Nest tunnel Material: Creek bank, shaft or arboreal termite nest Height above ground: ?

Red-backed Kingfisher feeding chicks at the entrance of the nest tunnel
[Near Narrabri, NSW, December 2014]

Here at least 3 near-fledging age Red-backed Kingfisher chicks can be seen waiting in the nest tunnel
[Near Narrabri, NSW, November 2015]

Entrance of a Red-backed Kingfisher nest tunnel
[Near Narrabri, NSW, December 2014]

Over time the entrance of the Red-backed Kingfisher nest tunnel became a lot messier
[Near Narrabri, NSW, December 2014]

And things can look worse yet; note that other species keep the entrance to their nest tunnels clean
[Near Narrabri, NSW, November 2015]

Overview of the location of the Red-backed Kingfisher nest tunnel in a steep creek bank; the tunnel entrance is the one near the top centre, at the top end of a dark "scar" in the bank; note how clean and inconspicuous the entrance is at this early stage
[Near Narrabri, NSW, November 2014]

Eggs

"boyanga", "booyanga", "derinya", "dirandil", "koomura", "ngampu", "nooluk", "pateena" = Egg; "dirundirri" = eggs [Aboriginal]; "gawu" = eggs [gamilaraay]

Size: 26 x 22 mm Colour: Glossy white Shape: Oval

Behaviour

Social behaviour: Territorial Mobility: Dispersive Elementary unit: Solitary/pair

We have observed the pair described above, seen near Narrabri, defend its territory against Sacred Kingfishers on both sides of their (ca.) 200 m stretch along an at the time dry creek bed.

Stand-off between a Red-backed Kingfisher and a pair of Rufous Songlarks
[Near Narrabri, NSW, November 2014]

As far as we can tell, usually one bird in a pair (presumably the male) calls a lot, while the other (the female?) is quiet or gives only short, soft calls. This includes the welcoming procedure, where always the same bird (the male?) calls the welcome, irrespective of which of the two is arriving.

A Red-backed Kingfisher was observed by us twice, hovering above a paddock like a raptor for between 5 and 10 seconds where there was no suitable perch available.

Red-backed Kingfisher hovering in the exact-same spot for 10 seconds; composite of four photos taken a few seconds apart
[Near Narrabri, NSW, December 2014]

Additional information

In bird species where the female is the sole or dominant incubator, the male must prove that he is willing and capable to feed her while she is sitting on the eggs. He does this by bringing her offerings of food before she lays eggs. We have taken short photo sequences of such feeding sessions.

NB: We find it very hard to distinguish the two sexes in the field. The feeding sessions are the easiest way to tell who is male or female.

Food, Diet

Red-backed Kingfishers are known to hunt primarily on land and in trees for small reptiles and large insects (e.g. small lizards, dragonflies, bush cockroaches). They have also been seen by us to take mice.

Red-backed Kingfisher with a big locust it has caught for its near-fledging age chicks
[Near Narrabri, NSW, December 2014]

(Probably male) Red-backed Kingfisher with a mouse it has caught (for its near-fledging age chicks!)
[Near Narrabri, NSW, December 2014]

Red-backed Kingfisher with a mouse it has caught (for its near-fledging age chicks!)
[Near Narrabri, NSW, December 2014]

Red-backed Kingfisher with its catch, a dragon fly
[Near Narrabri, NSW, November 2014]

This Red-backed Kingfisher is feeding its chicks what looks like the remnants of a preying mantis
[Near Narrabri, NSW, December 2014]

Call(s)/Song

For this species we have recorded the following call(s)/song. The interpretation of their meaning is our own; comments and suggestions for improvement are welcome.

rbkingf_20141016_7.mp3 (NW NSW) Contact calls (male) © MD
rbkingf_20141005_4.mp3 (NW NSW) Pair Q&A © MD
rbkingf_20141221_5.mp3 (NW NSW) Calling fledgling © MD
rbkingf_20141016.mp3 (NW NSW) Welcoming partner? © MD
rbkingf_20141016_2.mp3 (NW NSW) Defending territory (vs. Sacred Kingfisher) © MD
rbkingf_20141016_4.mp3 (NW NSW) Annoyed (with Aust. Magpie) © MD
rbkingf_20141221_6.mp3 (NW NSW) Fledgling begging © MD
rbkingf_20141221.mp3 (NW NSW) Q&A fledgling with parents © MD
rbkingf_20141210_11.mp3 (NW NSW) Nestling begging © MD
rbkingf_20141216_2.mp3 (NW NSW) Nestlings begging & being fed © MD
rbkingf_20141031_2.mp3 (NW NSW) Various (Q&A) © MD
Click here for more recordings

The recordings of "begging calls" above are of Red-backed Kingfisher chicks responding to calls or the arrival of one of their parents. Their begging calls can also intensify spontaneously, without a noticeable external trigger. But other events can also trigger the youngsters into activity, e.g. when one walks past the tunnel opening, or when other bird species call near the nest. Some examples are presented below.

rbkingf_20151118_6.mp3 (NW NSW) Reacting to parent's call © MD
rbkingf_20151118.mp3 (NW NSW) Human moving near nest © MD

We have also recorded the wing beat of a Red-backed Kingfisher.

rbkingf_20141210_12.mp3 (NW NSW) Adult landing on perch near nest © MD

These pages are largely based on our own observations and those of our contributors. The structure of these bird pages is explained HERE. For more salient facts on any bird species please refer to a field guide.

Would you like to contribute photos or sound recordings to this site?
If interested, please CLICK HERE. Credits to contributors are given HERE.