Family Kingfishers (Alcedinidae)

Least Concern

Giant Kingfisher (Megaceryle maxima)


French: Martin-pêcheur géant German: Riesenfischer Spanish: Martín gigante africano

Alcedo maxima


, 1769,

Cape of Good Hope, South Africa


Forms a group with M. lugubris, M. torquata and M. alcyon. Validity of darker form gigantea has been questioned, since light and dark forms have been found together in Liberia and in both Upper and Lower Guinea forests; further investigation required. Two subspecies tentatively recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • M. m. maxima (Pallas, 1769) – open areas from Senegambia E to W Ethiopia and S Kenya, and S to S Angola, N Botswana, and South Africa (mainly in E half, S to Cape Town and SW, and also Orange R).
  • M. m. gigantea (Swainson, 1837) – forest from Liberia to S Nigeria, then E to W Tanzania and S to N Angola; also Bioko.
  • Descriptive notes

    42–46 cm; male 275–426 g, female 255–398 g. Adult male of nominate race has black forehead, crown and hindneck with small white spots on crown, black lores... read more


    Loud, raucous, cackling “kek” when disturbed, may be repeated as “kek-kek-kek-kek... read more


    Large perennial rivers, and dams and lakes with plenty of marginal woody growth, in forest and... read more

    Food and feeding

    Mainly fish (Cichlidae, Serranidae) in Zaire and Zimbabwe, and river crabs (including Potamon) in Liberia and South Africa; also... read more


    Lays in Nov–Feb in Senegambia, in Mar in Mali, in Dec–Jan in Liberia, in Dec in Cameroon, in Jan–Mar in Zaire, in Aug in... read more


    Generally resident, with some local movements which may involve dispersing juveniles, or adults... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Widespread, and common in some localities. A pair in South Africa had a home range of 4·3 km on a river. May suffer from pesticides draining... read more

    Recommended citation

    Woodall, P.F. (2019). Giant Kingfisher (Megaceryle maxima). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 7 December 2019).