Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)


Kingfishers are widespread across the UK and inhabit the sides of rivers, canals, and lakes. Oftentimes an avid birdwatcher may struggle to see them until they are diving at lightning-fast speeds with a flash of bright blue and orange into the water to catch a fish. They are shy birds, though occasionally they may visit a pond in a garden if fish are plentiful.

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Alert Status:

Green - 22% decline ↓

Estimated number of UK breeding

pairs: 3,850-6,400 (updated 2016)

Listen to Kingfisher song:


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

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Kingfisher diet

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.

Kingfisher breeding and nesting information

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.

Threats to kingfishers

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.

How you can help

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.

Fascinating Fact

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.
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BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Alcedo atthis. Downloaded from on 20/06/2022.  

Čech, M., Čech, P. (2015) Non-fish prey in the diet of an exclusive fish-eater: the Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis. Bird Study. 62(4): 457-465.

Chandler, D. (2017) RSPB Spotlight Kingfishers. Bloomsbury, London

Mougeot, F., Rodriguez Ramiro, J. (2019) Commensal association of the common kingfisher with foraging Eurasian otters. Ethology. 125(12):965-971.

Reynolds, S.J., Hinge, M.D.C. (1996) Foods brought to the nest by breeding Kingfishers Alcedo atthis in the New Forest of southern England. Bird Study 43(1): 96-102.

Robinson, R.A. (2005) BirdFacts: profiles of birds occurring in Britain & Ireland. BTO, Thetford (, accessed on 28 March 2022)

Rubáčová, L., Čech, P., Melišková, M., Čech, M., Procházka, P. (2021) The effect of age, sex and winter severity on return rates and apparent survival in the Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis. Ardea. 109:15-25.

Stanbury, A.J., Eaton, M.A., Aebischer, N.J., Balmer, D., Brown, A.F., Douse, A., Lindley, P., McCulloch, N., Noble, D.G., Win, I. (2021) The status of our bird populations: the fifth Birds of Conservation Concern in the United Kingdom, Channel Islands and Isle of Man and second IUCN Red List assessment of extinction risk for Great Britain. British Birds. 114

Turčoková, L., Melišková, M., Balážová, M. (2016) Nest site location and breeding success of Common kingfisher

(Alcedo atthis) in the Danube river system. Folia Oecologica. 43(1): 74-82.

Woodward, I., Aebischer, N., Burnell,D., Eaton, M., Frost, T., Hall, C., Stroud, D. & Noble, D. (2020) Population estimates of birds in Great Britain and the United Kingdom. British Birds. 113: 69–104.

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