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Kingfisher sitting on a branch

Kingfisher

Alcedo atthis

This is the only species of kingfisher native to the UK: there are about 90 species in the world of which the Australian kingfisher, the distinctive kookaburra, is the largest.

All about kingfisher

You’ll find kingfisher around the Solent all year-round: generally in still or slow-moving water habitats such as lakes, canals, and rivers, where they hunt for fish and aquatic insects from perches.

If you’re lucky, you may spot a kingfisher perching patiently then diving suddenly into the water with a plop, emerging almost instantly with a small fish. They have dense water-resistant plumage and powerful wing muscles making them natural fishers.

Each kingfisher needs to eat its own bodyweight of fish each day to survive. It takes any fish its caught, back to its perch where the kingfisher stuns it so it can be easily swallowed.

Their bright turquoise head and back and orangey-copper breast are a dazzle of colour and make this bird easy to identify.

A male kingfisher will have a completely black beak while a female has an orange patch at the base.

Despite their striking colouring, kingfishers can be easy to miss since they’re surprisingly small, similar in size to a robin, although their large heads and bills make them almost twice as heavy.

You may hear a kingfisher before you see it: listen out for their silvery piping call.

Territorial instincts

Kingfishers are solitary creatures for most of the year and they are highly territorial, defending their home range vigorously. Territory is vital for kingfishers – any bird that can’t secure an area with enough food supply won’t survive. This is particularly important before the onset of winter.

In this video clip, caught by Ranger Charlotte on Bembridge on the Isle of Wight, two birds show off plenty of synchronised bobbing with bills open, and then suddenly launch into attack mode, gripping each others’ bills.

Spats like these can make kingfishers vulnerable to predators as they’re so focused on their stand-off, it makes them less vigilant to other threats.

 

Two kingfisher battling for territory spotted by Ranger Charlotte at Bembridge on the Isle of Wight

Nesting season

Kingfishers breed in their first year, usually starting to pair off with a mate  around February. In cases where the male and female occupy neighbouring territories, these areas may merge during the breeding season.

Both male and female birds work together to dig out a nest burrow, which will end up between 60 -90cms, with a diameter just slightly wider than the bird itself – a remarkable engineering feat.

The birds usually raise 2 to 3 broods consecutively, with each clutch consisting of 5-7 eggs. Both take turns incubating the eggs – once hatched, each chick will eat more than 10 fish every day.

After less than a month, the fledglings will be ready to leave the nest. And, once they’re ready, the young birds are fed for only four days before the adults drive them out of the territory, making way for the next brood.

Local spotlight

Kingfisher are fairly widespread across the Solent. Some migrate down river towards the coast for winter, so the colder months may be the best time to see them near the sea.

Conservation status

Kingfishers are green listed in the UK.

Did you know?

Aristotle claimed kingfishers made their nests on the surface of the sea surface in a period of calm weather. And since the Greek name for kingfisher is halcyon, days without storms became known as ‘halcyon days’. Today we use the term to refer to past times remembered fondly.