Kingfisher

Alcedo atthis

16-17cm

Appearance

The dark bill is long and sharp-looking, the head is big, and the tail is stumpy. Birds are orangey-red underneath (and have the same colour on their cheeks), vivid blue or green on top (colour appears to change in light), legs are reddish, and there are pale areas on the neck and throat. The base of the female's bill is tinged with red, but otherwise she resembles the male. Juveniles are less vivid, and have a pale tip on the bill.

Habitat

Breeding territories are in low areas that are in close proximity to water. They tend towards expansive but gentle rivers and lakes, particularly with appropriate nesting banks and abundant fishing.

Character

Usually flies rapidly and directly, and often seen cutting low across the water. Finds a suitable fishing perch when hunting and may hover over the water before diving for prey; Kingfishers return to their perch where they might stun the fish by hitting it. Will pursue each other rapidly when courting.

Food

Diet includes lots of fish such as bullhead, loach, minnow, stickleback and chub. Eats some aquatic insects and some insects including mayflies, stoneflies, dragonfly nymphs and water beetles.

Breeding

Pairs form in February and March, and female lays 5-7 eggs from the beginning of April. Both adults incubate the eggs for 19-21 days, and they share the job of feeding the young too. Young depart the nest at about 23-27 days old, and are soon independent. Kingfishers may have a second and third brood.

Population

Kingfishers in the region seldom travel far, but some European populations are migratory, wintering in Mediterranean areas. Approximately 3800-6400 pairs breed in the UK, and about 1000-2500 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

Kingfishers are quite timid and can be difficult to spot despite their vibrant colours. When they find a successful fishing spot, they return to the same perch repeatedly. For this reason, it is worth finding a bank in suitable habitat and waiting there for a Kingfisher to cross your path.

Voice

Has a piercing 'shreee-keee' call, often uttered when flying.
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