A Kingfisher With Many Names

To the veteran wild bird photographer, this particular Kingfisher is very familiar and very recognizable. Compared to the rest of the Kingfishers found in the Philippine Forests, it is relatively common, making them a spectacle to behold for a beginner birder/bird photographer. This is the first Kingfisher I ever photographed during my first birding sortie in Bangkong Kahoy Valley! My dad helped me identify birds back then, and for this particular species, he called it the White-throated Kingfisher. Fast forward to the present day, and perhaps the name White-throated Kingfisher would be a tad bit confusing for this bird. According to the birdsoftheworld website, this bird goes by the name Brown-breasted Kingfisher. Why is that the case?

When it was first discovered, it was named the White-breasted Kingfisher, but it was noticed that the individuals present in the Philippines don’t typically have a white breast and instead have a rather short white threat and a much browner breast. Soon enough, the name was changed to the White-throated Kingfisher and declared as a subspecies of the White-breasted Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis gularis). However, in recent studies, the scientific community has concluded that this particular Kingfisher is now called the Brown-breasted Kingfisher with the scientific name Halcyon gularis, transferring the White-throated Kingfisher name to Halcyon smyrnensis. Now elevated to full-fledged species level, this Kingfisher is now a proud Philippine endemic! While having a history of multiple names may become confusing, this Kingfisher happily adopts the local name Tigmamanuk, a name Filipinos give to vibrant blue birds.

The Brown-breasted Kingfisher is found throughout the Philippines, except for Palawan and the Sulu Archipelago. This particular individual was photographed in the Subic Bay Rainforest, a well-known spot for this specific species. In Subic, the Brown-breasted Kingfishers like to pose on tree branches and electrical wires! They utilize these wires to get a high vantage point to sneak up on small lizards attempting to cross the road. I found this out when we drove past our usual birding trail, and this little guy swooped right from a wire to perch on a branch in front of us. 

This peculiar Brown-breasted Kingfisher also has a white spot right under its eye, a feature that is oddly present in this individual. I saw another Brown-breasted Kingfisher in the same area, but it did not appear to have the same white eye mark like this one. This leads me to believe that this particular Brown-breasted Kingfisher might have a birthmark! 

Make sure to say hello to this Kingfisher for me when you start birding in Subic!

Photographed by Vinz Pascua

Halcyon gularis
Least Concern,Philippine Endemic
Subic Bay Rainforest, November 2021

Canon EOS R5 + Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R + Canon EF 600mm F/4L IS II USM + Canon EF 1.4x II Extender
ISO 3200, f/8, 1/320, Manual mode, Spot Metering

Vinz Pascua

Wildlife Photographer, Graphic Designer, and Digital Artist for Haring Ibon. He’s also an active member of the Wild Bird Photographers of the Philippines (WBPP) since 2020. 

Visit for his photography, art, and design works. 

Haring Ibon has partnered with Optisan Optics to be the official distributor of their world-class binoculars and spotting scopes in the Philippines. Although relatively newly established, their optics have already made an impact overseas, partnering with the likes of the Raptor Research Group of Taiwan, Wild Bird Society of Taipei, The Society of Canton Nature Conservation, and the Guangxi Biodiversity Research and Conservation Association.

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