Bright and beautiful, although shy and hard to spot.
The kingfisher’s relatively small and compact frame is distinctive in its beautiful plumage. It has short, round wings, a stubby tail, and a large head. The adult bird’s crown, nape, moustache and all upperparts a bright greenish-blue, the shade of which changes depending on light and viewing angle. The crown and wing coverts have highlighted droplets of pale blue. Scapulars, flight feathers and tip of tail are a darker blackish-blue. Face, underbody and underwing coverts are a rich orange-chestnut, which is paler on the throat and centre of belly, this colouring ends abruptly at snow-white flashes on the side of the neck and under the chin. The kingfisher’s proportionally large head holds a long, razor-sharp bill, which at around 4cm long accounts for almost a quarter of its body length. It has white spots in front of eyes, which are dark. Male and female kingfishers are virtually identical, apart from a flash of pale orange that can be seen on the lower part of the female’s bill. Juvenile kingfishers are generally less colourful than the adults, with paler plumage and shorter bills, and legs of dull orange.
The kingfisher’s song is comprised of bubbling whistles, similar to the starling. The kingfisher will also emit plaintive, chattering whistle calls.
Common Kingfisher Call
Dawid Jablonski, XC185754. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/185754.
Kingfishers have toes that are joined together along part of their length, making a useful shovel with which to excavate nesting tunnels.
The kingfisher’s diet primarily consists of freshwater fish and aquatic invertebrates, with some insects here and there.
Kingfishers are widespread, especially in central and southern England. They are less common further north, but are steadily increasing in numbers in Scotland after a decline previously. They can be seen all year round. They are best looked for at fish-rich, slow-flowing rivers where there are some tress and sandy banks. In the winter they can also be found at estuaries and coasts.
Kingfishers are fairly secretive, wary birds, and can be difficult to spot despite their bright plumage. They will usually be perched motionless on a branch on the lookout for prey. If there is no suitable perch, the kingfisher will hover for several seconds before plunging into the water. The kingfisher’s back and tail are the palest parts during flight, which straight and fast, and usually seen low over the surface of the water.
Kingfisher diving into the water
When it dives into the water, the kingfisher’s eyes are protected by a translucent third eyelid.
Kingfishers are loners by nature, preferring solitary excursions along their stretch of water. They are highly territorial, but during breeding season the male presents the female with a fish during the courtship display, after chasing her around for a while and constantly calling after her. Kingfishers don’t build a nest, but burrow into a bank, making a tunnel, which is left unlined. The female will lay eggs any time between April and August. The clutch will consist of 5-7 eggs, almost round, glossy white. The incubation period lasts 19-21 days. Males and females take turns at incubating the eggs during the day, at night only the female will incubate them. Feeding is also shared. Once large enough, young birds will come to the burrow entrance to be fed. Parents can raise 2 broods a year.
Male and Female Kingfisher passing fish
Kingfishers can live for up to 15 years, but the average lifespan is 2 years.
Kingfishers are resident all year round in the UK. In harsh winters they may travel south to more coastal areas.
The kingfisher’s UK conversation status is Amber. The UK breeding population is 3,800-6,400 pairs.