Moluccan Paradise Kingfishers in Wallace's "The Malay Archipelago" and in the present

I had seen pictures of the amazing paradise kingfishers in books. Beyond the normal colourful kingfisher body, they have incredible long tails terminating in flared tips.

The other weekend on the island of Halmahera in the northern Moluccas of Indonesia, I saw a paradise kingfisher in person for the first time. The bird did not present itself in the open for a photograph so I had to peer through the undergrowth, with many blocking leaves and do the best I could under the circumstances.

Here it is.

Paradise kingfisher, Tanysiptera galatea, near Weda, eastern Halmahera, Saturday 9th March 2019



Alfred Russel Wallace devoted part of his 1869 book "The Malay Archipelago" to these beautiful birds.

"I also obtained one or two specimens of the fine racquet-tailed kingfisher of Amboyna, Tanysiptera nais, one of the most singular and beautiful of that beautiful family. These birds differ from all other kingfishers (which have usually short tails) by having the two middle tail-feathers immensely lengthened and very narrowly webbed, but terminated by a spoon-shaped enlargement, as in the motmots and some of the humming-birds. They belong to that division of the family termed king- hunters, living chiefly on insects and small land-molluscs, which they dart down upon and pick up from the ground, just as a kingfisher picks a fish out of the water.

They are confined to a very limited area, comprising the Moluccas, New Guinea and Northern Australia. About ten species of these birds are now known, all much resembling each other, but yet sufficiently distinguishable in every locality. 

The Amboynese species ... is one of the largest and handsomest. It is full seventeen inches long to the tips of the tail-feathers; the bill is coral red, the under- surface pure white, the back and wings deep purple, while the shoulders, head and nape, and some spots on the upper part of the back and wings, are pure azure blue; the tail is white, with the feathers narrowly blue-edged, but the narrow part of the long feathers is rich blue. This was an entirely new species, and has been well named after an ocean goddess, by Mr. R. G. Gray."


Drawing of a paradise kingfisher in "The Malay Archipelago"



Back on Halmahera, I saw two other kingfishers, one the sombre kingfisher, the other a blue-and-white kingfisher, both of these being endemic to the Moluccas.




Two endemic Moluccan kingfishers near Weda, Halmahera, a sombre kingfisher (Todiramphus funebris) at left and a blue-and-white kingfisher (Todiramphus diops) on the right, Saturday 9th March 2019



There were other things to look at here in the place of the shy paradise kingfisher, including many orchids and insects. A few of these are shown below.


Orchids, near Weda, Spathoglottis plicata (I think)








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