The Malachite kingfisher is one of the smallest of the kingfishers found in the southern African region and is also one of the most beautiful. Its range includes most of Africa south of the Sahara, but within the southern African region its presence is limited to the areas of higher rainfall and it is largely absent from Namibia and Botswana.
The Malachite kingfisher is approximately 14 cm in length and the males and females are similar in size and plumage. They have bright metallic blue upper parts; the face, cheeks and under parts are rufous and they have white patches on the throat and neck. The head carries a short crest of black and blue feathers; the bill is redish-orange; the legs and feet are red and the eyes are dark brown.
Malachite kingfishers are commonly found along slow moving rivers, lakes and ponds, where they can be seen amongst the reeds or perched on a convenient branch, usually low over the water, from which it fishes. Large fish are usually beaten on a branch or other convenient hard surface before being swallowed head first, while small fish and insects are quickly eaten.
The call of the Malachite kingfisher is a shrill “seek“.
They are monogamous and build a nest by excavating a tunnel, which may be up to a metre in length, into a sandy bank. The female lays a clutch of white eggs on the sand at the end of the tunnel, without the benefit of a real nest, although the eggs are often surrounded by discarded fish bones. The eggs hatch after an incubation period of approximately 15 days days.
The scientific binomial for the Malachite kingfisher is Alcedo cristata; Alcedo from the Latin for a “kingfisher”, and cristata from the Latin for “crested”. Thus a crested kingfisher, which is accurate enough, although several of the other kingfishers have crests that are more noticeable than the Malachite’s.