Perched adults look mostly greyish brown on the upper part of the body. The lower back, secondary flight feathers, and tail are metallic blue; this colour is much more visible when the bird flies than when it is perched, as is a white patch at the base of the primary flight feathers. The wing linings are white with a black border, and in males a black bar at the base of the primaries. The underparts are off-white, buffier on the breast, with brown streaks on the sides in Kenyan birds and also on the breast in southern African birds. Also streaked dark brown is the top of the head, with the background buffy grey in males and brownish in females. The sides of the head, throat, and a collar around the back of the neck continue the off-white of the underparts. A black line goes around the back of the neck, above the white collar, and through the eyes. The bill is blackish above and at the tip, otherwise reddish-orange below. The striped kingfisher of the nominate subspecies H. c. chelicuti averages 16 to 18 cm (about 6.5 in) from beak to tail. The northern subspecies H. c. eremogiton has a grey-brown crown and mantle and almost unstreaked underparts. The juvenile resembles the adult but is paler. It has less blue on the wings, a darker crown, dusky tips to the breast feathers, and dull red on the lower mandible.

Habitat and Distribution

It prefers woodland, thorn scrub (thornveld), dry bush, and open savanna, but avoids intensively farmed land. This species occurs in sub-Saharan Africa except in dense forests (especially near the Congo River), the northeast, and the region south of northwestern Namibia and northeastern South Africa.


The striped kingfisher eats mostly grasshoppers followed by other large insects. Small lizards, snakes and rodents are occasionally taken. It hunts from a perch about 3 metres (10 ft) high swooping to the ground for prey up to ten times a minute. Food items are taken back to the perch and swallowed, large prey being beaten vigorously first. Grasshoppers taken to the nest to feed the young are presented to the chicks head-first, in much the same way that aquatic kingfishers deliver fish to their offspring.


A mated pair of striped kingfishers display by sitting facing each other in a treetop with tail cocked. The wings are flicked open and shut as the birds sing. the pee-hee song soon becomes a sequence of short trills and pauses. The female lays eggs in a disused woodpecker or barbet hole. Both sexes incubate during the day, but only the female at night. The male feeds the female, but holds the prey items while the female tears off pieces. Lesser honeyguides and greater honeyguides parasitise up to a quarter of nests. This species is usually monogamous, but polyandry has been recorded. The striped kingfisher is normally double-brooded.

Calls and Songs

The call is distinctive, `a high-pitched, piercing 'cheer-cherrrrrr'` or a far-carrying `KEW, kerrrrrrrrr` in which the rs represent a repeated descending trill lower in pitch than the first note. It is often given at dusk in a display where the bird opens its wings.