These beautiful birds are unmistakable in our British waterways, these small and stocky birds are bright and colourful, but can still be difficult to spot in the dappled light beside our canals and rivers. Both sexes area deep shade of blue, with barring on their heads. They have an orange stripe on the face, with a white cheek patch just behind this stripe, and matching rusty orange underparts. Their rump is a bright electric blue, and when inflight you can see that this stripe extends all along the back.
Males have a black bill, whereas females have a black bill with a reddish orange base to it on the underside. Juveniles are duller in colour, with a greener tinge to their feathers. Their legs are black, compared with the reddish orange legs of adults.
Average Length: 16-17cm
Average Lifespan: 2-3 years
Average Wingspan: 24-26 cm
As the name would suggest, kingfishers feed almost exclusively on fish, diving from a perch to catch their prey. Small fish are its speciality, but occasionally they will catch aquatic invertebrates, amphibians, and small lizards, though it is unclear if these are just accidental bycatch.
Around February time, kingfishers start to try and find a mate. This is often the best time to hear kingfishers, as they call more frequently in February-March in a high-pitched tone. Males often present gifts to females in courtship, such as fish. Once the female and male have become a pair, the excavation of the nest begins, which is normally a long tunnel into the side of a riverbank, excavated by the pair and lined with fish bones.
Between April-July, kingfishers will produce 2, maybe 3 broods, each clutch containing 5-7 eggs. The eggs are incubated by both parents, and normally hatch after 3 weeks, fledging a further 3-4 weeks after.
Kingfishers struggle badly in harsh winter conditions, due to pools of water freezing, making fish inaccessible to them. They struggle to get enough energy to survive, and many may starve, in addition to needing extra energy to stay warm. Individuals who produce a lot of chicks in the breeding season are also often more affected by bad winters, as they have used much of their fat stores and energy in the summer months to support their chicks.
Keep a constant supply of fresh, clean water available year-round.
If you have a pond with fish that are accessible to kingfishers, make sure that it does not freeze over in the winter months by placing a ball in the pond.
If you see invasive species growing along waterways, please report this to the relevant authorities.
Did you know that common kingfishers have been known to follow otters that are foraging on small fish? This association is thought to be beneficial to kingfishers, allowing them to find the best places to scavenge leftovers or to hunt the fleeing fish after an otter has caught its prey.
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Alcedo atthis. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 20/06/2022.
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Mougeot, F., Rodriguez Ramiro, J. (2019) Commensal association of the common kingfisher with foraging Eurasian otters. Ethology. 125(12):965-971.
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