It is the largest kingfisher in Colombia. Megaceryle derives from the Greek root megas = great and ceryle a mythical bird mentioned by Aristotle. The epithet torquata comes from the Latin torquatus which means with a collar.
It measures around 40 cm, the males weigh between 254 and 330 g and the females between 274 and 325 g. The male is greyish blue on the upper parts, has a white throat and wide collar, rufous chest and belly. In front of the eyes it has two white semicircular spots. Their primary feathers are black and their undertail-coverts white with gray bars. Its bill is greyish black with the base of the lower jaw yellowish. The female is similar to the male but with a grayish-blue pectoral band edged with white on the underside.
Similar to the Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) but it is smaller, it does not have as much rufous in the lower parts and its distribution in Colombia is restricted to the Caribbean coast.
Three subspecies M. t are recognized. torquata, M. t. stictipennis, and M. t. stellata. Only the first is found in Colombia.
It is found from Texas to Tierra del Fuego. In Colombia it is found in the lowlands of the entire national territory, mainly below 500 m. Less frequently, up to 2,600 in the Sabana de Bogotá.
It inhabits along rivers, lakes, swamps, estuaries, water reservoirs, mangroves, and rice crops. It can be observed in wooded areas close to the coastline.
It feeds on fish with a strong preference for those of the Characidae and Cichlidae families. It also consumes frogs, salamanders, reptiles, crabs, and insects.
Reproductive evidence has been recorded in February on the Island of Salamanca (Magdalena) and Puerto Inírida (Guainía). In the southern Amazon between June and September and from the end of November to March. Also in February in Antioquia. It nests in ravines on the banks of rivers and lakes in which both members of the pair excavate a tunnel 2 to 3 m deep with a chamber at the end. They lay 3 to 6 eggs whose incubation period is 22 days. Both the incubation of the eggs and the care of the chicks is in charge of both the male and the female. The young leave the nest between days 33 and 38 after the eggs hatch.
It is generally observed patiently perching on branches that protrude above bodies of water. It is abruptly thrown into the water where it captures its prey which it takes to the perch to hit and swallow them. Sometimes he flies over the water before jumping into it.
Sometimes included in the genus Ceryle. It forms a superspecies with M. lugubris (Asia), M. maxima (Africa) and M. alcyon (America).
It is considered a kind of minor concern.