Halcyon (genus)

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Woodland Kingfisher (Halcyon senegalensis) South Africa.jpg
Woodland kingfisher (Halcyon senegalensis)
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Coraciiformes
Family: Alcedinidae
Subfamily: Halcyoninae
Genus: Halcyon
Swainson, 1821

See text

Halcyon (/ˈhælsiən/) is a genus of the tree kingfishers, near passerine birds in the subfamily Halcyoninae.


The genus Halcyon was introduced by the English naturalist and artist William John Swainson in 1821. He named the type species as the woodland kingfisher (Halcyon senegalensis).[1]

"Halcyon" is a name for a bird in Greek legend generally associated with the kingfisher. There was an ancient belief that the bird nested on the sea, which it calmed in order to lay its eggs on a floating nest. Two weeks of calm weather were therefore expected around the winter solstice. This myth leads to the use of halcyon as a term for peace or calmness.[2]

The genus contains 11 species:[3]

Image Scientific name Common Name Distribution
Ruddy Kingfisher.jpg Halcyon coromanda Ruddy kingfisher east and southeast Asia.
Halcyon smyrnensis - Singapore Botanic Gardens.jpg Halcyon smyrnensis White-throated kingfisher from the Sinai east through the Indian subcontinent to the Philippines.
Javan Kingfisher - Meru Bethiri NP MG 6571 (29543573702).jpg Halcyon cyanoventris Javan kingfisher Java and Bali
Chocolate-backed Kingfisher from the Canopy Walkway - Kakum NP - Ghana 14 S4E1290 (15577534033).jpg Halcyon badia Chocolate-backed kingfisher western Sub-Saharan Africa.
Black-capped Kingfisher Sundarbans West Bengal India 30.12.2014.jpg Halcyon pileata Black-capped kingfisher India east to China, Korea and Southeast Asia
Grey-headed Kingfisher (Halcyon leucocephala) (11929836715), crop.jpg Halcyon leucocephala Grey-headed kingfisher Cape Verde Islands off the north-west coast of Africa to Mauritania, Senegal and Gambia, east to Ethiopia, Somalia and southern Arabia and south to South Africa.
Male Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Halcyon albiventris.jpg Halcyon albiventris Brown-hooded kingfisher Sub-Saharan Africa
Striped Kingfisher - Kenya IMG 3214.jpg Halcyon chelicuti Striped kingfisher Sub-Saharan Africa
Birds 1000692 (31271406382).jpg Halcyon malimbica Blue-breasted kingfisher Equatorial Africa
Woodland Kingfisher (Halcyon senegalensis) South Africa.jpg Halcyon senegalensis Woodland kingfisher Africa south of the Sahara.
Flickr - Rainbirder - Mangrove Kingfisher (Halcyon senegaloides) in the rain (cropped).jpg Halcyon senegaloides Mangrove kingfisher Somalia, south through Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique, to South Africa

However, other sources, including Fry & Fry, lump the genera Pelargopsis, Syma and Todirhamphus into Halcyon to make a much larger grouping.

Geographic distribution[edit]

The genus Halcyon in the current sense consists mainly of species resident in sub-Saharan Africa, with a couple of representatives in southern Asia, one of which, the white-throated kingfisher, occasionally reaches Europe. White-throated and ruddy kingfishers are at least partially migratory.


Halcyon kingfishers are mostly large birds with heavy bills. They occur in a variety of habitats, with woodland of various types the preferred environment for most. They are “sit and wait” predators of small ground animals including large insects, rodents, snakes, and frogs, but some will also take fish.


  1. ^ Swainson, William John (1821). Zoological illustrations. Volume 1. London: Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy; and W. Wood. Plate 27 text.
  2. ^ "Halcyon days". The Phrase finder. Retrieved 2008-01-11.
  3. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David, eds. (2017). "Rollers, ground rollers & kingfishers". World Bird List Version 7.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 17 May 2017.


External links[edit]