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This is a medium-sized kingfisher, about 25 cm (9.8 in) long with a white with a black mask, a white supercilium and black breast bands. The crest is neat and the upperparts are barred in black. Several subspecies are recognized within the broad distribution. The nominate race is found in sub-Saharan Africa, extending into West Asia. The subspecies syriacus is a larger northern bird similar to the nominate subspecies (following Bergmann's rule). Subspecies leucomelanura is found from Afghanistan east into India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Laos. The subspecies travancoreensis of the Western Ghats is darker with the white reduced. The subspecies C. r. insignis is found in Hainan and southeastern China and has a much larger bill. Males have a narrow second breast-band while females have a single broken breast band. The pied kingfisher is the only member of the genus Ceryle. Molecular analysis shows it is an early offshoot of the lineage that gave rise to American kingfishers of the genus Chloroceryle. The pied kingfisher was initially believed to be descended from an ancestral American green kingfisher which crossed the Atlantic Ocean about one million years ago. A more recent suggestion is that the pied kingfisher and the American green kingfishers are derived from an Old World species, with the pied kingfisher or its ancestor losing the metallic colouration afterwards.
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