The Pied Kingfisher can be expected at almost any body of fresh or brackish water, and at times even at tidal pools, with suitable perches as vantage points from which it can hunt fish, tadpoles, frogs, crustaceans and aquatic insects, often hovering above the water before launching a diving attack. Large prey is pounded repeatedly against a favourite perch to kill it and soften it up before swallowing. They are usually seen in pairs or small family groups and have been recorded up to 5km from the nearest land over the open water of large lakes. With a weight of up to 110g, and a length of up to 25cm, it is the second biggest kingfisher found in South Africa.
Though nesting has been observed throughout the year, the breeding season of the Pied Kingfisher peaks in spring, when pairs nest in burrows of up to 2.5m long that they dig themselves in earth banks, with up to 7 eggs laid in a wide chamber at the end. Incubation takes about 18 days and is mainly the female’s responsibility. The chicks stay in the nest for another 3 to 4 weeks and then start to learn to hunt, becoming independent by about 3 months of age. Usually a pair has helpers from previous broods assisting in the feeding of the present clutch.
The IUCN considers the Pied Kingfisher to be of least concern, thanks to its wide distribution over Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Indian Subcontinent and South-East Asia. It may be one of the three most numerous kinds of kingfishers, but some populations however are in decline due to poisoning and habitat loss, while others are thriving. In South Africa they are commonly found from the Western Cape and along the coast and adjacent interior of the Eastern Cape, through Kwazulu-Natal into Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Gauteng, North West and the Free State. They also occur along the length of the Orange River in the otherwise arid Northern Cape.