Great-billed kingfisher is a Sulawesi endemic. Also called Black-billed Kingfisher, or Celebes Stork-billed Kingfisher, this kingfisher is only found on Sulawesi, Banggai, Sula and other nearby islands of Indonesia. There are considered to be three subspecies: Pelargopsis melanorhyncha melanorhyncha, P. m. dichrorhyncha and P. m. eutreptorhynchma. All of these photos are of birds seen in the mangroves near Tangkoko National Park, North Sulawesi, Indonesia, and are therefore of P. m. melanorhyncha.
In order to see this bird, I went by boat from the village of Batu Putih, northern Sulawesi, with my guide Esli from Tangkoko Tour and Travel Co. accompanying me on the boat trip to the mangroves. The short trip across the bay and around the headland to the north of the village, is also a good place to see the lovely blue-green, Sacred Kingfisher (alas too far away to photograph).
The entrance to the river leading upstream to the mangrove site was very shallow and the boatman had to get out and push the boat along. At one spot we decided to stop and check out the river bank.
It was not until we were deep into the mangroves, up quite a small creek, that we came across Great-billed kingfishers, perched on the branches extending out over the water.
The boatmen edged the boat nearer and nearer to the perched bird, which allowed us to get quite close and take better and better photos. They were probably used to seeing birders with their long lenses poking about in the mangroves. Hopefully they can tell friend from foe!
It is not know how large the population is of this species; although it is described as being generally sparse throughout its distribution, it can also be locally common. It is described as having a loud, barking call (“kak-kak-kak”) but the ones we saw did not make any noise.
There are three species in the genus Pelargopsis, this one, Brown-winged kingfisher (Pelargopsis amauropterus) and Stork-billed kingfisher (Pelargopsis capensis). They are all quite big birds (c. 35 cm in length) and have very large bills. Pelargopsis kingfishers like well-wooded habitats near to lakes, rivers or estuaries where they typically perches above the water, scanning for prey items (fish, crabs or crayfish). Brown-winged Kingfisher is one of my favourite birds. It is only found in mangroves along the coastlines of Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Thailand. Krabi in southern Thailand is a very good place to see it. Stork-billed kingfisher has a wide distribution throughout South and Southeast Asia.
Great-billed kingfisher is the least colourful of these three kingfishers, but it is still an impressive bird, with its big black beak and subtle green, grey and brown markings on its back. Lets hope that there are enough crayfish and mangroves to keep this magnificent species well fed and thriving, into the future.