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Genus HALCYON, Swainson, 1820.
There is much difference of opinion as to the limits of the present genus. In the British Museum catalogue it comprises the forms here referred to Callialcyon, Sauropatis and Caridagrus, and contains 53 species, whilst by many writers it is restricted to the type H. senegalensis and its allies. I do not see any necessity for generically distinguishing H. smyrnensis and H. pileata from H. senegalensis; but the differences between Halcyon and Sauropatis, for instance, appear to me quite as great as those usually regarded as of generic importance in the present work.
In Halcyon the bill is red throughout, large, rather broad at the base, the culmen straight, rounded above and without any distinct groove at the side. The wing is rounded, the 3rd quill generally longest. Tail moderate, longer than culmen, slightly rounded at the end. One of the characteristic features in the plumage is the presence of a large white patch on the wing formed by the basal portions of the primary quills.
Key to the Species
Halcyon smyrnensis, White-breasted Kingfisher
Coloration: Chin, throat, and middle of breast white, all the rest of head, neck, and lower plumage deep chestnut or chocolate-brown; scapulars and interscapulary tract, tertiaries, outer webs of secondaries above, and upper surface of tail blue, generally with a greenish tinge; lower back, rump, and upper tail-coverts brighter blue; greater wing-coverts duller and darker blue, median coverts black, lesser chestnut; secondary quills except on outer web above black; ends of primaries, much longer on the outer than the inner, black, basal portion white, with the outer web above pale blue.
Bill dark red, the margins brownish; iris brown; legs coral-red (Oates).
Size: Length about 11; tail 3.3; wing 4.7; tarsus 0.65; bill from gape 2.8
The Andaman birds were distinguished by Hume as H. saturatior on account of their deep coloration, the blue portion of the plumage being a darker blue and the chestnut parts chocolate-brown. The size too is rather large. But similarly coloured individuals, though rare, may be found in India and Ceylon.
Distribution: Throughout India, Burma, and Ceylon, except in the Himalayas, into which this species only penetrates up to a moderate elevation to the westward. It is generally rare or wanting on the higher hills of the peninsula, though Davison obtained it on the Nilgiri plateau. Outside of India it ranges throughout the Malay peninsula, Cochin China, etc., to southern China, and westwards through Persia and Baluchistan to Asia Minor and Cyprus.
Habits: This, like Alcedo ispida and Ceryle varia, is a common Indian bird, but its habits are very different from those of the other two Kingfishers, for though it occasionally, but rarely, catches fish by plunging after them, it lives chiefly on insects and small lizards, and sometimes on mice or land-crabs. It has a screaming cry, almost always uttered daring flight. It breeds from March to July, laying 4 to 7 white rounded eggs in a chamber at the end of the usual burrow, which is generally made in the hank of a stream or tank, sometimes in a well, or on a cliff. In Cachar, however, Mr. E. C. Stuart Baker has described this bird as building a roughly constructed nest of moss amongst rocks or large stones. The eggs measure on an average 1.13 by 1.03.
Fig. 37 - head of H. pileata
Coloration: Crown, nape, and sides of head black, a few white feathers below the eye; a broad white or buff collar round the neck, followed by a blackish band; scapulars, back, rump, upper tail-coverts, upper surface of tail, outer webs of secondaries and tertiaries outside, and greater primary-coverts deep blue, brighter on the lower back and rump; remainder of upper wing-coverts black; primary-quills black at the tips, the first primaries for half their length, the inner primaries for less, basal portion white with the outer web pale lilac, a little of the outer web beyond the lilac part blue, secondaries black except on the dorsal surface of the outer web outside; chin, throat, and middle of breast white; sides of throat and breast and remainder of lower surface, with the wing-lining, ferruginous buff; tail black beneath.
In young birds and in many females the breast-feathers have dark borders, and there are black spots on the sides of the throat. Bill deep red; iris dark brown; legs dark red (Oates).
Size: Length about 12; tail 3.25; wing 5; tarsus 0.6; bill from gape 2.8
Distribution: A single specimen was obtained by Jerdon at Tellicherry, Malabar coast, and another by Layard in northern Ceylon. The only other known locality in India is on the Ganges, where this Kingfisher has been found as high as Monghyr. It is more common in the Sunderbans and down the Burmese coast, being especially abundant in the Irrawaddy delta. It also occurs in the Andaman and Nicobar islands. It is seldom found inland, but Oates obtained a specimen on the Irrawaddy at Palow, below Thayet Myo, and it appears, according to Davison and Bingham, to wander up the Tenasserim rivers from September till February. It ranges through the Malay peninsula and archipelago to Celebes, also through Siam, Cambodia and China, to Corea.
Habits: This Kingfisher, though chiefly found on salt-water creeks and mangrove-swamps, haunts fresh-water streams at times. It lives on fish and crabs and has, like most Kingfishers, a shrill cry.
This genus is distinguished by its peculiar plumage, being rufous throughout except on the lower back and rump. There is no white on the primaries. Otherwise there is no difference from Halcyon. A single species.
Coloration: Upper parts, with the wing and tail, and sides of the head and neck light chestnut or cinnamon, more or less overlaid with a red-violet gloss. Middle of lower back and rump white, mixed with pale blue and occasionally with violet: lower parts rufous, varying in depth, paler on the throat and chin.
Young with dark edges to the breast-feathers. Bill red, blackish at the base; iris brown; legs and claws red (Oates).
Size: Length about 10.25; tail 2.6; wing 4.3; tarsus 0.65; bill from gape 2.5
Skins from the base of the Himalayas and from Burma, even from Tenasserim, are paler above and. below, and much less suffused with violet gloss than Andaman specimens, and the latter are rather larger. The difference appears greater than in the case of H. smyrnensis and the variety H. saturatior. Andaman birds resemble those from the Malay peninsula and archipelago (true H. lilacina). Indo-Burmese birds are more like Japanese (H. schlegeli).
The specific name coromanda, although the oldest, cannot be applied to a bird that is not found in the peninsula of India.
Distribution: Lower Himalayas up to about 5000 feet, in eastern Nepal, Sikkim, and farther East; Assamese and Burmese countries, generally distributed but rare; also the Andaman and Nicobar islands, Malay peninsula, Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Celebes, the Philippines, eastern China, and Japan.
Habits: A shy bird, generally found in forests and not un frequently near the coast in mangrove-swamps.
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