The Chocolate-backed Kingfisher of Uganda is a spectacular bird species that seeks refuge in habitats close to lush forests that support birdlife.

The Chocolate-backed Kingfisher Uganda

The Chocolate-backed Kingfisher Uganda: This regal bird belongs to the subfamily Halcyoninae and can be found in Sub-Saharan Africa and, in the case of Uganda, in Semliki Valley National Park and mostly along the Royal Mile-Busingiro in the lush Budongo Forest of Uganda. The Chocolate-backed Kingfisher (Halcyon badia) is a stunning bird species known for its vibrant colours (chocolate above and white below), rainforest habitat, and unique feeding behaviour. If you ever find yourself exploring the African rainforests, be sure to keep an eye out for this beautiful bird in Uganda’s largest natural tropical rain forest of Budongo Forest. This spectacular bird species seeks refuge in habitats close to lush forests like riverbanks, forest clearings, thickets, and riverine areas that support birdlife, for example, in  Uganda’s Budongo Forest.

These Kingfishers demonstrate remarkable nesting adaptations by utilising termite nests and exhibit a mix of aerial and ground hunting behaviours. Their unique nesting strategy showcases their resourcefulness in the rainforest ecosystem. They excavate their nests within the earth for arboreal termites belonging to the genus Nasutitermes. The termites construct their nests on lianas, vines, or angled branches approximately 4–5 metres (13–16 feet) above the forest floor. The Kingfishers create their nest horizontally from the side of the termite nest. Interestingly, they can dig out most of the termite’s structure during nest excavation. The termites respond by sealing themselves off from the cavity created by these bird species.

Appearance

This type of Kingfisher is a strikingly beautiful bird, with a glossy, chocolate-brown plumage and a distinctive white patch on its throat. It is immature with its white and immaculate underparts; the Chocolate-backed Kingfisher has the stocky, classic Kingfisher form. Very dark brown: chocolate is the colour of the head and hind neck, brownish black is the mantle, black is the back, dazzling blue iridescent is the rump, black is the upper tail coverts, and pale blue is the tail. A vivid azure speculum developed in the outer webs of the secondary feathers sets apart the otherwise dark wings. Adults and juveniles are similar, with the exception of the scalloped breast and the blackish bill with an orange tip. The underparts are distinct from the dark top parts, being snowy white from the throat to the vent, except for a small patch of blackish colour on the flank. The blue speculum and rump stand out when in flight.

Vocalization

These colourful birds are more frequently heard than seen as they sit in the sub-canopy. Their ability to adapt to their surroundings is impressive, as they build their nests on mounds made by arboreal termites. The Chocolate-backed Kingfisher emits a harsh, screeching alarm note. Its song consists of a high-pitched, barely audible introductory “pee,”  followed by 12–17 long flute-like pure tones. These tones are evenly spaced, far-carrying, and last 5–7 seconds. Sometimes, the song falls away towards the last few notes.

Distribution

The Chocolate-backed Kingfisher occurs across the African tropical rainforests. Its range extends west of the Dahomey Gap from Sierra Leone to Ghana. It also inhabits areas from southern Nigeria east to the southern Central African Republic and western Uganda. Further south, it reaches the Kwango River in northern Angola as well as on Bioko Island. The Chocolate-backed Kingfisher is not a migrating bird. It does not engage in long-distance seasonal migrations like certain other Kingfisher species do. Rather, it continues to live in the western Sub-Saharan African rainforests that it prefers and here in Uganda’s Budongo Forest Reserve, we refer to it as a Guinea-Congo biome Endemic.

Habitat, behaviour, and foraging

Most of the time, these Kingfishers are silently observing clearings from their perch high in the treetops. From their perches, they either soar to capture prey in the air or descend to catch it on the ground. It has been noticed that Chocolate-backed Kingfishers assault columns of driving ants and feed on the insects that the ant columns flush out or the ants themselves. Their main sources of food are small lizards and insects, including grasshoppers, beetles, and invertebrates. With its sharp beak and keen eyesight, the Chocolate-backed Kingfisher is an berg hunter and can often be seen perched above the middle canopies and high canopies, waiting to catch its prey.

Budongo Forest, Royal Mile and Busingiro tourism sector

Within the heart of Budongo Forest lies the stunning paradise of Busingiro. This hidden gem in Uganda is a bird-watcher’s paradise, with over 360 species of birds recorded to date. You’ll be mesmerised by the unique and rare birds that call this place home, such as the striking Chocolate-backed Kingfisher, the gorgeous Lemon-bellied Crombec, and the captivating Uganda Woodland Warbler. You’ll also be thrilled to spot the rare Ituri Batis, the Red-fronted Antpecker, and the Nahan’s Partridge. And if you’re lucky, you might even spot the smallest African Dwarf Kingfisher in the wild! Other incredible birds to watch out for include the Grey and Yellow Longbill, the Fire-crested Alethe, the Green and Tit Hylia, the Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo, the Forest Robin, and the Scaly-breasted and Brown Illadopsis. A visit to Busingiro in the Royal Mile is an unforgettable experience that will leave you in awe of the remarkable and diverse birdlife found in Uganda.

Threats to the Chocolate-backed Kingfishers that impact its survival and well-being:

Habitat Loss

The primary threat to these kingfishers is habitat destruction due to deforestation. As rainforests shrink, the available nesting sites and foraging areas for the chocolate-backed kingfisher diminish. Logging, agriculture, and infrastructure development contribute to the loss of their natural habitats.

Land-Use Changes

Future land-use changes pose a severe potential threat to this species. As human activities alter the landscape, the kingfisher’s forested habitats may be further fragmented or degraded.

Climate Change

Altered weather patterns, increased temperatures, and changing rainfall regimes affect rainforest ecosystems. These changes can disrupt the availability of prey, nesting sites, and overall habitat suitability for the Chocolate-backed Kingfisher.

Water Quality and Prey Availability

Heavy rainfall can lead to flooding, dispersing fish (their primary prey) in fast-flowing water.

Clouded water with mud makes it difficult for Kingfishers to find and catch prey. This challenge becomes critical when they are feeding their young ones.

Illegal Wildlife Trade

Although not as prominent as for some other species, illegal trade in wildlife can still impact the Chocolate-backed Kingfisher. Ensuring effective enforcement against poaching and trafficking is essential.

Human Disturbance

Human activities, including tourism and infrastructure development, can disrupt nesting sites for bird species. Noise, pollution, and disturbance near their habitats can stress the kingfishers and affect their breeding success. Conservation efforts, habitat protection, and community engagement are crucial to mitigate these threats and secure the future of this captivating forest Kingfishers.

Conservation measures for Chocolate-backed Kingfishers

Conservation efforts for the Chocolate-backed Kingfisher are crucial to safeguarding this remarkable bird species toether with their habitats.

Habitat Protection

Preserving the rainforest habitats where these Kingfishers reside is essential. Deforestation poses a significant threat to their survival. Efforts to establish and maintain protected areas within their range can help ensure suitable nesting sites and foraging grounds.

Research and Monitoring

Scientists and conservationists continue to study the Chocolate-backed Kingfisher’s behaviour, ecology, and population dynamics. Monitoring their populations helps track changes and assess the effectiveness of conservation measures.

Community Engagement

Local communities play a vital role in conservation. Through education and community sensitization programmes, we can raise awareness about the importance of preserving biodiversity and the unique species found in its midst. Involving communities in sustainable practices and habitat restoration efforts fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility.

International Collaboration

Cross-border cooperation between countries within the Kingfisher’s range is essential. Joint efforts can address threats such as habitat loss, climate change, and the illegal wildlife trade.

Advocacy and Policy

Advocacy groups and organisations work to advocate for policies that protect rainforests and their inhabitants. Legislation supporting habitat conservation and wildlife protection is crucial for long-term success. Remember, every small step counts! By supporting conservation initiatives, we contribute to the well-being of not only the Chocolate-backed Kingfisher as well as the entire habitats of the ecosystem.