Thai National Parks

Birds of Thailand

Species of Thailand

Sacred kingfisher

Binomial name: Todiramphus sanctus, Nicholas Aylward Vigors & Thomas Horsfield, 1827

The sacred kingfisher (Todiramphus sanctus) is a medium-sized woodland kingfisher that occurs in mangroves, woodlands, forests, and river valleys in Australia, New Zealand, and other parts of the western Pacific. In New Zealand the species is also known by its Māori name kōtare.

It is called “sacred” for it was said to be a holy bird for Polynesians, who believed it to have control over the waves. Likewise, the local subspecies of collared kingfisher and other kingfishers in the southwestern Pacific were ascribed venerable power over the ocean.


The sacred kingfisher was described by the naturalists Nicholas Aylward Vigors and Thomas Horsfield in 1827 under the binomial name Halcyon sanctus. Halcyon is feminine and the correct name would be Halcyon sancta. Vigors and Horsfield compare their species to Alcedo sacra described by Johann Friedrich Gmelin in 1788. Gmelin in turn based his description on John Latham's "Sacred King's Fisher" published in 1782. Latham described several varieties, one of which was illustrated in Arthur Phillip's The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay published in 1789. The genus Halcyon is now split and the sacred kingfisher placed in the genus Todiramphus that had been erected by the French surgeon and naturalist René Lesson in 1827.

Five subspecies are recognised:

  • T. s. sanctus (Vigors & Horsfield, 1827) – Australia to east Solomon Island to New Guinea and Indonesia
  • T. s. vagans (Lesson, R, 1828) – New Zealand, Lord Howe Island and Kermadec Islands
  • T. s. norfolkiensis (Tristram, 1885) – Norfolk Island
  • T. s. canacorum (Brasil, L, 1916) – New Caledonia
  • T. s. macmillani (Mayr, 1940) – Loyalty Islands

This article uses material from Wikipedia released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike Licence 3.0. Eventual photos shown in this page may or may not be from Wikipedia, please see the license details for photos in photo by-lines.

Site notes

A speciemen of this species was caught and ringed at Laem Phak Bia Environment Research and Development Project east of Phetchaburi by Philip Round, Israt Jahan and Paul Thompson on 17th February 2019.

Scientific classification

Todiramphus sanctus


  • Halcyon sancta

Conservation status

Least Concern (IUCN3.1)

Least Concern (IUCN3.1)

Distribution map of Sacred kingfisher, Todiramphus sanctus in Thailand
  • Laem Pak Bia

Range map of Todiramphus sanctus in Thailand

Important note; our range maps are based on limited data we have collected. The data is not necessarily accurate or complete.

Special thanks to Ton Smits, Parinya Pawangkhanant, Ian Dugdale and many others for their contribution for range data.

Contribute or get help with ID

Please help us improving our species range maps. To add a new location to the range map we need a clear image of the specimen you have encountered. No problem if you do not know the species, we will do our best to identify it for you.

For the location, please provide the district name or the national park/ wildlife sanctuary name.

Please post your images to our Thai Species Identification Help group on Facebook.