Widespread across sub-Saharan Africa, absent only from parts of East Africa and southern Africa. Within southern Africa it occurs in the Caprivi Strip (Namibia), Botswana, Zimbabwe, central and southern Mozambique and eastern South Africa (including Sibuya Game Reserve). It generally prefers savanna, riverine forest, coastal bush, plantations and gardens.
Intra-African breeding migrant, arriving in southern Africa in the period from September-October. Once the breeding season is over (around March), the juveniles and adults migrate back to other parts of Africa.
Unlike many other Alcedinid kingfishers it rarely eats fish, but rather feeds mainly on insects, occasionally supplemented with small vertebrates. It usually hunts by sitting on a perch, trying to locate prey. Once it locates something it dives to the ground, picking up the prey item before returning to its perch.
It nests in burrows dug into an earthen banks, such as a erosion gullies, stream banks, termite mounds, trenches and pits. Egg-laying season peaks from October-December. It lays 3-6 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for roughly 18 days (recorded in captivity) The chicks stay in the nest for about 18 days (recorded in captivity), after which they rapidly develop hunting skills, becoming fully independent soon after fledging.