Undoubtedly a spectacular sight, the common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) is a gloriously colourful bird which can live up to 15 years. Kingfishers boast bright, iridescent blue backs and rich copper breasts. Males have entirely black bills, females have orangey-red patches at the base of their bills. These birds are somewhat smaller than starlings and are roughly 16cm in length, with wing spans of 25cm.
These striking birds are found by still or slow flowing water including lakes, canals and lowland rivers. In the winter months, they may move to estuaries and coastal areas. They also occasionally visit larger garden ponds. Kingfishers are able to move at incredible speeds and are robust defenders of their territory at all times. They can be hard to spot as there are comparatively few in the UK but if you are close to water, look out for them perching on branches and posts, ready to fish.
What is the kingfisher’s distribution and population?
The kingfisher is found across the UK but is absent from northern Scotland. Their numbers dwindled considerably during the 20th century but surveys suggest that they have been recovering in recent years. Kingfishers suffered due to industrialisation. Water course became polluted but these days, freshwater courses are cleaner and capable of supporting diverse eco systems.
It is estimated that there are between 3,800 and 7,000 breeding pairs in the UK. Kingfishers remain vulnerable to harsh winters as they feed from shallow water which freezes over. They remain impacted by pollution and habitat destruction. They are on the amber list of threatened species and are listed as a Schedule 1 species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, offering them additional protection.
What do kingfishers eat?
These fast-moving birds are feisty predators which eat fish and aquatic insects. They are quite happy to tackle prey which is larger and heavier than themselves. If you wish to attract them to your garden, a wildlife pond of significant size is a must.
Where do kingfishers nest?
Kingfishers tunnel into high-sided riverbanks and then create small chambers for their eggs. They produce two or three broods each year. Each clutch can contain up to seven eggs, the first hatching March to May. The eggs are incubated for 20 days and chicks fledge after 25 days. The parents feed their young for a further four days before chasing them off and then producing another brood.
Did you know?
Kingfishers are so difficult to spot, they have inspired a saying: ‘Only the righteous see the kingfisher’.
in Victorian times, kingfisher feathers were used to make fishing flies and to adorn the hats, stoles and dresses of society women.