Black-capped Kingfisher Halcyon pileata


Justification of Red List category
Although this species has an extremely large range and likely exceeds 10,000 mature individuals, the population trend appears to be decreasing with occupancy and reporting rate trends suggesting rapid declines within the past three generations; primarily as a result of intensive riparian management. For this reason the species is evaluated as Vulnerable.

Population justification
The global population size has not been quantified, but the species is reported to be locally frequent and common to uncommon (del Hoyo et al. 2001). Given its extensive range and reports that the species is locally common, the population size is not thought to approach 10,000 individuals.

Trend justification

Data from South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore indicate this species has declined rapidly over the past three generations (12.3 years; Bird et al. 2020), while data from India indicate it may be declining there too.

Modelling the broad-scale occupancy trends between 1997-2005 and 2013-2019 using South Korean national bird survey data revealed a 95% decline, equating to 91% over three generations (Kim et al. 2021). Atlases of Hong Kong avifauna show that in the breeding season, the number of grids where the species was encountered dropped from 2.4% to 0.1% from 1993-1996 to 2016-2019. In the winter, they dropped from 2.4% to 0.2% from 2001-2005 to 2016-2019 (HKBWS 2020).  This is equivalent to breeding season and winter occupancy rates decreasing by 82% and 87% respectively within three generations. However, it is unclear whether the causes of these reductions are globally applicable, with Hong Kong becoming substantially more forested (with less suitable habitat for this species) over the past three generations, which is not true of elsewhere in its range. In Singapore, based on count data over 26 years, the population is estimated to have declined at an equivalent rate of c.50% over three generations (Yong D.L. in litt. 2022).

Data from India are unclear. The modelled reporting rate in 2014/2015 relative to before 2000 is reported to be 85% lower, although the citizen science data used (eBird) are spatially and temporally variable, the confidence intervals of the outputs are broad, and the rate of decline is considered non-significant (SoIB 2020). The reporting rate over the five-year span from 2014/15 to 2018/19 is also uncertain, with no significant change apparent (SoIB 2020).

Given the variability of the above trends which provide insight into only a small proportion of the entire range, the population-wide decline over the past three generations is suspected to be greater than 30%, but may be considerably higher. The rate of future decline is not estimated here given the uncertainties of the principal acting threat.

Distribution and population

The species breeds from Korea, east, central & southern China (from Liaoning to east Gansu and south to Hainan) and northern Indochina. It winters south to India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Indochina, Malay Peninsula, Andaman and Nicobar Is, Greater Sundas, Sulawesi and southern Philippines (Woodall and Kirwan 2020).


Halcyon pileata occurs mainly in lowlands up to 1,525m. In temperate regions it is found in deciduous forest near to water. In the tropics and subtropics it is found in coastal mangroves and wooded seashores, but also inland across creeks, lagoons, estuaries, rice fields, open cultivated land, Nipa palm groves, willow jungle, forest clearings, streams in bamboo-forest and in gardens. They feed on insects and occasionally frogs and reptiles in inland habitats, but mainly on fish and crabs in coastal habitats (Woodall and Kirwan 2020).


The population is suspected to be in decline owing to ongoing habitat destruction. In South Korea, rivers and streams have undergone intensive riparian management in the past two decades to improve flood management and agriculture (Normile 2010, Woo 2010). This has resulted in an altered flow and the loss of exposed riverbanks and shallow wetlands (Im et al. 2020), causing the loss of foraging and nesting habitats for the species. This is likely to be the main cause of the rapid decline in occupancy for the species in South Korea. In Thailand there is also photographic evidence that birds at least occasionally get entangled in nets over agriculture and aquiculture ponds ( and given the abundance of such nets across South-East Asia, this may represent a pervasive threat. Overall, a better understanding of their migration ecology and fine-scale habitat requirements will be essential to further clarify the factors responsible for their decline (Kim et al. 2021).  

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
There are monitoring schemes across some parts of the range.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Extend monitoring across the range, especially in the non-breeding areas. Research of migration ecology, fine-scale habitat requirements and the nature and extent of threats responsible for declines.


Text account compilers
Vine, J., Berryman, A.

Butchart, S., Ding Li, Y. & Ekstrom, J.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Halcyon pileata. Downloaded from on 29/09/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 29/09/2023.