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(Common) Kingfisher

Both sexes: Bright blue upper parts and orange-red under parts.

The Kingfisher is a small and plump with a very short tail but has disproportionately large head and long dagger-like bill.

Its plumage is beautifully bright: the back and tail are iridescent "electric" blue, the crown and wings are greenish-blue. The underparts and cheeks are an orange-red, and the throat and collar are pure white. The legs are red.

The sexes are very similar, the main difference being the colour of the lower mandible: the male's bill is all black while the female's is black with red on the lower mandible.

Juveniles are similar to adults, but the plumage is duller and greener and the tip of the bill is white.


Their flight is fast and direct and often very low over the water, and so all you see is a bright blue flash as they pass by.

Scientific Name Alcedo atthis
Length 16-17 cm (6½-6¾")
Wing Span 24-26 cm (10")
Weight 35-40 g (1¼-1½oz)
Breeding Pairs 4600-7600
Present All Year
Status Green

Distribution map - when and where you are most likely to see the species.


There is much dispute as to whether Kingfishers have a song. Whether or not they do, the commonest call is a shrill whistle "chi-keeeee".


© Jean Roché,


Freshwater fish are the main part of the Kingfisher's diet, but they will also take aquatic insects and more rarely crustaceans, molluscs and small amphibians.

When fishing, they perch on a branch over or close to the water watching and waiting for a fish to swim by. They dive in to the water for the fish, inevitably catch it, and then return to the branch where they will stun the fish before swallowing it head first.


The nest is usually in a tunnel, 30-90 cm (12-36") long, in a bank next to slow-moving water. The tunnel is excavated by both sexes and is not lined with any material.

The eggs are white, smooth and glossy, and are almost round at 23 mm by 20 mm. The male and female take turns incubating the eggs, and both adults feed the young.

Breeding Starts Clutches Eggs Incubation (days) Fledge (days)
late April 2-3 6-7 19-21 23-27


British birds are mainly resident, but in the winter harsh weather may force birds towards the coasts.

From mid-summer to autumn, young birds move away from their natal grounds, though rarely further than 50 km (30 miles).


Kingfishers have returned to many once polluted rivers in industrial towns and cities. Despite this, pollution remains a threat, especially in Europe, and the Kingfisher remains an amber listed species of conservation concern.